Career Change Series
Part 2 - Loose Ends

written by Riani aka Two Ladies of Quality




Mid-afternoon lull at the Magic Box. Anya stared disconsolately at the front door, wondering once again what people had to do that was better than putting money into her cash register. Or rather, Giles' cash register. But it was two weeks now since anyone had heard from him. Was there a statute of limitations on shopkeepers abandoning their stores?

It was so quiet in the store without Giles wandering around thoughtfully poking his nose where it didn't belong, as if he didn't trust her to run the store at peak efficiency. Or bustling back and forth among the books, muttering to himself in obscure languages.

All right, she missed him. It was very inconsiderate of him to disappear, worrying everyone, making Buffy destroy two punching bags in as many days as she took her frustrations out on inanimate objects when vampires and demons weren't cooperative. Tara and Willow were bickering over which magical approaches to take in regards to both locating Giles and resolving the Glory problem. Dawn and Xander hung back in the corners, trying not to attract attention. The Scoobies were slowly fracturing without Giles at the calm center.

Anya tried to distract herself by organizing the cash drawer again, orienting the bills in the same direction, alphabetizing by serial number, sorting the coins by date. They would manage. He'd threatened before to leave them, to force Buffy to stand on her own two Slayer feet. If he was--gone--then they'd just have to adapt a little quicker than expected.

The phone rang, and she wondered if it would be a legitimate customer or any of several cranks. "Thank you for calling the Magic Box, this is Anya, how can I help you?"

"Hello, Anya."

The phone nearly slipped from limp fingers. "Giles? Giles, is that you?"

"Yes, Anya, it's me."

"How dare you! How dare you disappear for two weeks and just call up like nothing's wrong! Where are you? What are you doing? You're worrying everyone sick, are you all right?" She angrily wiped her eyes, telling herself that it must be her allergies again.

There was a ghost of a laugh. "How comforting to know you never change, Anya."

"Why should I change? It's only been two weeks, how much could I change in two weeks?"

"Everything can change in an instant, my dear." His voice was odd, then became normal. "Is anyone else there?"

"No, it's the lull, everyone has other things to do than spend money, or they're at school. Where are you?"

"I can't tell you. Anya, I was hoping to catch you alone, you're the most reasonable one of the group. I don't know if you've noticed, but there are several books missing from the shop."

Anya glared around. "Missing? We've been robbed?"

"Not at all, I came by the other night to pick up some things I need for the project I'm working on. I didn't know if you'd noticed yet, and I didn't want you to worry."

She went to the bookshelves and re-examined the gaps that had been worrying her eye. "I knew someone had been here, but Buffy didn't believe me. What did you take?"

"The diaries, some of the more obscure texts. You shouldn't need them for anything you're working on, but I need them."

"What are you working on that you have to be in hiding?"

"I can't tell you. But believe me that it's safer if I work on this away from you and the others. Oh, and some casting supplies, I took those too."

"Hmph. Well, it is your store, but did you leave a receipt? I have to keep track of inventory, you know."

"I'm sorry, no."

"When are you coming back?" she asked, trying not to sound too wistful.

His silence was painful.

"Giles?"

His voice was different again, almost sad. "I don't know, Anya. It would probably be best if you prepared yourselves for ..."

"For you not ever coming back?"

"Yes."

"Well, then, to hell with you, too! Nearly everyone else that they depend on picks up and leaves without explanation, why the hell should you be any different?"

"Anya--"

"Buffy doesn't cry because she's Buffy and she's not going to let the others see how upset she is. Tara and Willow are picking each other apart, Xander sits and broods, Dawn hides in corners, and Spike wanders around like a ghost. But, please, don't let us distract you from whatever important work you're doing."

She slammed the phone down before he could hear the tears in her own voice.

On the east side of town was an unfinished subdivision with the cheery name of Sunrise Grove. Funding for the place had dried up when the developer disappeared one balmy summer night. The streets had been laid and utilities installed, as well as the all-important sewer connections. None of the houses had been finished, but the community center in the middle had been nearly completed when tools were laid down and workers left for good. The legal fight on the place's future was expected to go on for years, leaving the development stalled.

The community center contained a gym, a kitchen, meeting rooms, and, in the basement, a large room that had been intended for a small branch library. The shelves now contained ancient tomes of mystic lore and modern volumes, and there were several tables bearing arcane tools and vessels. At a desk on one side of the room, Rupert Giles turned off the cellular phone and stared off thoughtfully.

They still believed he was one of the breathing. This was a good thing. His demon gloated at how well his plan was working. But the memories of the man heard the buried tears in Anya's voice and fought regret. There was no going back for him. An old life, left behind. He should be used to it, he'd reinvented himself so many times in the past. This was just one time more.

"Come in," he called at a knock on his door.

"You are up," Spike said, strolling in. He looked at the cellular in Giles' hand. "Gonna call someone?"

"Already did. Anya at the shop, to explain why some things were missing."

"Did she buy it?"

"Apparently so. She was more interested in scolding me for abandoning everyone."

Spike settled into a chair at the desk and watched him carefully. "No going back, Ripper."

"No, I know that. I begin to understand the urge, though, to destroy the loved ones left behind. Fewer distractions." He shook himself. "Are we ready for tonight?"

"Picking up the truck at sundown. Meeting a couple of strong but stupids over there."

"Will they talk?"

"Maybe about me, but you're still a stranger. Anyway, everybody knows about The Watcher, but hardly anyone knows the face and the name that goes with the title. Especially with the wardrobe change," he grinned.

Giles glanced down at himself wryly. It was oddly comfortable to be wearing all black. It harkened back to the days of his youth, as well as appealing to his current self. Some sense of decorum, however, chose fine wool trousers over leather, with a simple cotton sport shirt. He still had his glasses, but he'd replaced the lenses with plain glass. The glasses helped his harmless image and gave him something to fidget with as he thought.

"So how's the dechipping going?" Spike asked, trying to sound casual.

Giles nodded at one of the tables. "I've refined it to blocking inorganic broadcast energy on the brain's frequency. I did some experiments with a spell to just overload the chip, but that has some fragmentary side effects you might not want to deal with."

"What do you mean?"

Giles put his fists together and flicked the fingers upwards. "Boom."

"Ah. No, thanks, mate, nothing flying to bits in the cerebral cortex, if you don't mind."

"Right." Over in a corner, an electric tea kettle began whistling. Giles went over. "Would you like a cuppa?"

Spike started to refuse, then shrugged. "Sure. If you have enough, that is."

"Parlour manners, Spike, I'm impressed. Milk?"

"If you have it."

"Of course."

Giles took a few minutes to savor his tea. His new senses found even more to enjoy in the aroma and taste. He watched Spike casually as the blond vampire sipped at his mug.

"Not bad," Spike said.

"Thank you."

"Must be a hundred years since I had a proper cuppa." He saw Giles being carefully uncurious and resisted the urge to explain. "You said the problem with the spell was making it permanent."

"I can base it on an object, but it would need to be on you to work. What are your thoughts on an earring?"

"Oh, fuck, you're kidding." He glared at the loop in Giles' left earlobe. "How big?"

"A gemstone would be best, higher quality the better. A half-carat good quality stone would work. A sapphire would go nicely with your eyes."

"Fighting the poof for his title, are you? If I lost it, the chip would kick in again, wouldn't it?"

"This is only a work around. We can look for a complete fix at leisure."

"And the possibility of it short-circuiting my brain?"

"What's life without a little risk?" Giles smiled. He obviously enjoyed the suspicion and distrust on Spike's face. "We can test it on someone first. If it's going to cause damage it will be immediately apparent."

"Human experimentation, Dr. Mengele?"

"Who said anything about human?"

Spike laughed. "I only care if I'm the guinea pig. How soon?"

"I need a gem and I want to double check the spell text against the books we're getting tonight. He turned the tea cup in his hands thoughtfully. "Day after tomorrow I'll cast it, if I can get the gems."

"You got a source?"

"I should." He glanced at his watch. "Sunset. Shall we?"

***

To Giles' surprise, his convertible was parked safe and sound in his space at his apartment complex.

"It's not even scratched," he said in disbelief. "Xander must have driven it over, none of the others could have done it."

"Gotta say," Spike said, "I was surprised when you bought this nice a car, considering your last one."

"Which you wrecked."

"Leading the toy soldiers away from your demon ass."

"Hm." A U-Haul truck rolled into the parking lot. "Ah, are these yours?"

"Better be."

The truck stopped at Spike's signal and two vampires climbed out of the cab. "What's the job?" the tall broad one asked.

"Simple move."

The short thin one looked around. "Felony or misdemeanor?"

"Legit. My mate over here is changing digs. Keys, Ripper?"

Giles barely turned from fondling his car to toss a set of keys to Spike.

A man in a bathrobe came stomping up the sidewalk. "Mr. Giles, is that you?"

Giles muttered a pungent Sumerian oath. "Mr. Katakis, how nice to see you. My landlord," he added to Spike.

Mr. Katakis glared at Spike. "I remember you, you were here a lot last year. Not supposed to have roommates without permission." He glared at the U-Haul.

"I assure you, Mr. Katakis, far from having an unauthorized roommate, I am moving out."

"Hmph. Just going to sneak out, were you? Not surprised. You seem the sort. Always trouble, broken windows, carpets always need cleaning, people in and out. Bodies! And all the women! Young ones, too, that little blonde thing that hangs around all the time. Tisn't right."

Giles slowly pulled off his glasses. Spike tried not to smirk. "Mr. Katakis, I'm sorry I was not a model tenant. But as of tonight, you won't have to worry about me anymore."

"Gonna disappear without a moving inspection, huh? Must be a mess up there. And I bet you're expecting your cleaning deposit back, too."

Giles studied him for a moment. "Why don't you let my friends start with the heavy lifting and such while you and I go to your office and take care of any ... paperwork that's necessary."

Mr. Katakis glared at Spike and the two vampires, who were leaning against the U-Haul, looking like union workmen on a break. "Who are those two men, Mr. Giles?"

Giles looked at the pair who had come in the truck, still in their game faces despite the presence of a human. "Mr. Katakis, surely you would not be so gauche as to hold someone's appearance against them when it comes to hiring?"

"Oh. Of course not."

"Then let's go to your office and settle matters." Mr. Katakis headed off, muttering. Giles looked at Spike. "You know what we're after. This shouldn't take long."

"Bon appetit," Spike grinned. Giles blinked, then smiled and followed Mr. Katakis.

The short vampire licked his lips. "Was dinner part of the deal?"

"You were supposed to eat before you got here. What, you expect me to order you a delivery guy?"

"Well ..."

"First we work, then we eat."

Twenty minutes later, Giles came in to say farewell to his apartment. He found the tall vampire carrying out a box of books. "By the way, thank you for helping me with this. I didn't catch your name."

"Uh, I'm Fred." They shook hands around the box.

"Wonderful. I'm Ripper. And your friend?"

"Sammy. You know Spike long?"

"Oh, years now."

Fred looked at him oddly. Giles wondered if he could tell Giles was barely two weeks old as a vampire. If nothing else, vampires did not normally have apartments with sunny windows.

"So where is Spike?"

"Uh, up in the bedroom, trying to figure out how to get the bed apart."

"Dammit, that's an antique, he'll break it. Excuse me."

Nearly all the books were gone, which was the priority. Beyond his books, Giles wanted his desk, couch and bed. Not surprisingly, the TV and stereo and all his tapes and discs were already gone. Spike would have grabbed those first. Sammy, taping up the last box of books, nodded to Giles.

Upstairs, the mattress and box spring were leaning against the wall. Spike was staring at the bedframe, twirling a hammer in his hand.

"Don't you dare," Giles said firmly, taking the hammer away.

"Did you get the landlord squared away?" Spike asked with a grin.

"Yes, I did. And I got my cleaning deposit back."

"Rifled his wallet?"

"Desk drawer was open. And no one saw me with him." He smiled reminiscently. "He said he knew I was no good, foreigners are always trouble, he said."

"Good riddance to him, then. We should be out of here in an hour if you help carry. Oh, and help me get this thing apart."

"Fine. But no hammers."

Taking the furniture out was a lot easier with vampire strength than the struggle to get it all in. While Spike supervised the final loading, Giles did a last sweep of the place. He wasn't really going to miss the place. Not even his human part had that many happy memories. What there were of them were overwhelmed by the images of dead Jenny and long nights of too little sleep, too much alcohol, and too much stress. He should have moved out long ago.

He turned at a tap on the door. Spike stood in the doorway. "Truck's ready, boys are getting hungry. If you don't want your ex-neighbors to be entrees, we should go."

"No, Mr. Katakis will attract enough attention when the kids discover the apartment's empty."

"If they make the connection between him and the place being empty, they'll know a vampire was involved."

"But they won't know it was me." He looked around one more time and sighed.

"Feeling nostalgic?"

"Not really. How about you?"

"For the tub? For sitting in the corner with a Slayer in my lap getting gushy? Not bloody likely. Then we're ready?"

The last physical tie to his old life. "I'm ready. I'll drop the keys off in the office. You riding with the truck or me?"

"I'll go with the truck. Maybe help the boys get something to eat on the way." He saw Giles' grimace, but the former Watcher said nothing.

"Then I'll meet you over there to help unload."

Spike started to go, then looked back. "Best thing to do is leave it quick. Easier that way, not to see where you came from." He settled his long coat around him and went off into the night.

Giles studied a wall absently, then nodded and left.

***

It was a dark and stormy night. Really. The community center at Sunrise Grove was dark, with heavy shutters and curtains on all the windows, and luckily the roof didn't leak.

Giles walked through the half-built subdivision, carrying an umbrella against the rain. The unfinished houses in their proto-lawns of mud continued to warp and deteriorate, and they looked wonderfully uninviting to the casual passer-by. Some of the shells, however, contained beer bottles and other remnants of parties.

"Rotten kids, get off my lawn," Giles murmured with a smile. It wouldn't be long, though, before the jungle telegraph put out the word that the ill-starred subdivision was not on the A party list anymore. Just as well, although he did quite enjoy having his dinner practically delivered to his doorstep.

But he didn't need the distraction of teaching stupid youngsters to find somewhere else to play. Not when he was working magic again. It was easier than ever to reach out for the forces of manipulation, but the demon kept yearning to tug wildly on the strands, regardless of consequences. Half of everything he'd done since he'd changed involved meditation and exercises of the will to make sure the mage side controlled the casting, not the demon side.

Such meditation was why he was out walking before attempting the spell to block the effects of Spike's chip. The rain was soothing, reminding him of England. His urge to return home confused him, though. Was it the demon or the man who was so heartily sick of California? He was still working out exactly how far he should give in to the demon's demands while still maintaining his identity.

But this was all distraction again. The spell he was planning was simple. His only concerns were his lack of current practice with active spell-casting and the demon's propensity for sticking its nose in at the worst possible time. Granted, thinking of the demon as separate was sophistry. All theories of vampirism stated that the demon wore the shell of the old personality, holding up the mask of the body and performing according to old patterns recorded in the memories. That assumed, though, that personality resided only in the soul. Giles really wanted to sit down with psychologists and experts on brain mapping to discuss where habits and will lived. Being a vampire had so many elements to fascinate a man of intelligence.

More wool-gathering, a very bad habit. He turned to head back towards the community center and heard footsteps approaching out of the dark. "There you are, Ripper," said Fred. He and Sammy had stayed on with Spike and Giles after the move, having no better ideas on what to do with themselves.

"Good evening, Fred. Let me guess, Spike's getting impatient."

"Yep. Something about you can gaze at your navel later, he wants his spell."

"Well, he has been waiting a while. Let's go."

***

Spike stood in an out of the way corner of Giles' library/workroom, smoking nervously. Giles stood at a table on the far side of the room, going over components and words.

"That's going to have to be your last cigarette," Giles said. "Tobacco is not a required incense for this spell."

"Dammit." He sucked down the last inch and ground the butt out under his heel. Without nicotine to distract himself, he watched Giles work. Dru's spellwork had always been full of floaty gestures, mystic mutterings, and, more often than not, dolls in odd places. Giles was very focused and professional, looking more like a surgeon laying out his instruments then someone communing with the forces of the universe.

In the middle of the empty area in the center of the room was a waist-high round table with a brass bowl. Giles began transferring items from his work table to the round table. Spike was used to the genial, sometimes bumbling researcher, though he'd seen flashes of the man who had trained and honed the most effective Slayer in history. The new version had a collected way of moving across a room that was a pleasure to watch.

"Make yourself useful," Giles said over his shoulder. "Put these on the cardinal points marked on the floor." He tossed four white candles to Spike.

"Any particular one where?"

"No, just upright. Oh, and don't light them."

After the candles were placed, Giles picked up a bowl and began sprinkling a powder along a circle connecting the candles. When that was done, he looked everything over one more time. He looked up and saw Spike watching him carefully. "What's so fascinating?"

Spike grinned. "I just like watching professionals at work."

"Not quite professional, not anymore. Once I get back into practice, now, then we'll see." He touched each item on the round table in turn, naming them off mentally. "That should do it. Nothing dreadful should happen, but don't cross that circle if you can help it."

"Why the circle if this is simple?"

"Minimizes outside influences. I see more things out of the corner of my eyes than I used to, I'd like to keep them from interfering. All right, we begin."

He picked up a pinch of powder from the circle, closed his eyes a moment, then murmured "Fiat lux" and dropped the powder.

The circle flashed white and the candles took flame.

Spike blinked. "Does that work for cigarettes?" he asked to cover how impressed he was.

"Hush."

Giles went to the table and began work. Items were added to the bowl as he spoke quietly to himself. It sounded like Latin, but Spike only got a few words. Spike found himself watching Giles' hands, the sure way he manipulated the ingredients and the precision of the gestures. The man played guitar, if he remembered half-overheard conversations correctly.

Finally, Giles picked up a small narrow-bladed dagger and jabbed it into his thumb. Blood dripped into the bowl, where a brief flash of light went off.

Giles stepped back and relaxed. "Excellent. Apparently caster's blood is just caster's blood when it comes to bindings. I wasn't sure if vampirism would change that." He looked off thoughtfully. "Though that would have interesting ramifications on existing spell structures, if a caster was changed. Then again, I'm sure there are more advanced spells where the condition of the caster's blood is very important. I wonder--"

"Ripper," Spike said firmly.

"What? Oh, sorry."

"I see why you and the little witch get along, you both babble. Did it work?"

"I believe so. Let me finish everything up." He reached down to the circle, picked up another pinch of powder and said, "Fiat atra" as he dropped it. The candles went out and the circle went dark.

"Now that is neat," Spike grinned.

Giles brushed off his fingers. "Yes, that went well. And now the results." From out of the bowl he pulled two small items.

Spike came over, glowering. "Two? I agreed, reluctantly, to one."

"I believe in spares. You'll only need to wear one." He handed the two earstuds over.

Faceted amber, each about six millimeters across. Each had a tiny gnat embedded in them. "Where did you get these?" Spike asked. "I like the bugs."

"I have my sources." He took one of the studs back. "And now to test." He looked towards the door, then shrugged and pulled the loop out of his own ear.

"What are you doing?" Spike asked.

"I was going to call in Fred or Sammy, but I'm in a hurry."

"Ripper, you said this could be dangerous if it didn't work."

Giles grinned. "Why, Spike, I didn't know you cared. If my brain goes to jelly, you have my permission to stake me. Do make sure first, though." He slid the post into his ear.

Spike watched carefully. Giles stared off, hardly blinking. "Ripper?" Not even a blink. "Mate? Giles!"

"Hm? Oh, yes, everything seems fine." The faint smile made Spike smack him hard in the arm. "Now we try it for real." Giles picked up a thin metal spike. "Where would you like it?" he asked with a grin.

Spike raised an eyebrow. "You're the sorcerer. Where does it need to be?"

"Your choice. But close to the brain would be best."

"This better not look stupid." He ran his fingers around the curve of his left ear. "Up here at the top. A bit less poofy than the usual."

"It'll hurt more."

"I'm tough." He took the spike from Giles, found a spot in the upper part of the ear's cartilage, then shoved the sharp end through. The ear post went in next, and he snapped the back on. No change in his head, he felt exactly the same. "All right, I still have my mind. Now what?"

Giles went to the door and looked out. "Fred, would you bring in our guest?"

Spike blinked, then grinned as Fred dragged in a kicking, swearing young man. No one he knew. "I like a man who's prepared."

"No use running experiments if one can't run tests. Thank you, Fred."

"Um, can I watch?" Fred asked. "Just to see if it works?"

Giles looked at Spike, who shrugged. "What the hell? Not like the whole world doesn't know I had my fangs pulled anyway."

The young man looked around. "You can't do this. My father's a lawyer, he'll have you all up on charges--"

"I know you," Giles said. "Jeremy Jones. You were supposed to go to UCLA for football. I guess that fell through if you're still in Sunnydale."

"You're that faggy librarian from the high school! Oh, you're in trouble, I'll get you deported--"

"Is anyone else as tired of this stupid sod as I am?" Spike said. Dread of the pain was slowing him down, as well as dread that another hope would fall through. But he wasn't going to get back to his proper vicious self without trying this out. He waited till Jones was looking at him and walked towards him slowly. "I don't think anyone is very concerned about your daddy the lawyer, mate. Let him go, Fred."

Jones pulled away, saw his way to the door was blocked, and turned on Spike. He saw only a slender man, not that tall, in black jeans and t-shirt. "You don't look so tough, pretty boy. Bring it on."

"Points for balls, mate, but you don't know what you've fallen into here." Spike rode the building violence. For over a year now he'd preyed on his own kind, just to keep himself sane. There was a lot of built up tension to take care of. Poor kid.

The human swung, and Spike caught his fist. Jones tried to pull free, but Spike held on easily. Slowly he closed his hand around the fist. Jones yelled in pain and fell to his knees. Spike laughed.

"Excellent," Giles murmured as Fred grinned in delight.

Spike pulled on his game face and grinned down at the gibbering Jones. Beating the crap out of wimpy humans was no fun, though. Humans had other uses. He reached down, grabbed a handful of hair and yanked Jones up, tilting his head back to expose the neck. Spike hesitated just a fraction, then slammed his fangs into the jugular.

Exile's end, mind chains cut free, his true self finally uncurled. That gnawing, never-ending hunger finally eased, tasting real food again. He growled as he fed deep and as Jones struggled helplessly. The boy's heart fluttered under his hands, the blood in his mouth became sharp with fear and despair.

Finally the human was drained and limp. Spike felt close to whole for the first time in months. He let the body drop to the floor and stretched ecstatically. "God, yes! I am back!"

Giles leaned a hip on his work table and grinned. Fred practically applauded.

It was like the first time he'd been drunk: the world had new colors, senses he'd forgotten the names for stretched wide. But unlike drunkenness, this was real, this was what he was truly meant to be. He flexed his hands, feeling his strength as something new. "Free."

He flung his arms wide and laughed his joy and anticipation to the world. Then he spun to stride over to Giles, grab his head and kiss him hard on the mouth. He shoved his tongue into the other man's mouth, and it took a couple of seconds to realize he was being kissed back. He broke the kiss slowly, pulled back and gave Giles a very intrigued look.

"You're welcome," Giles said, still smiling. He licked his lips. "They always do taste better when they're afraid."

Spike smiled. "It's been a long time, though. I'm still hungry."

Fred piped up. "So what are you going to do now?"

Spike blinked. He'd all but forgotten the other person in the room. He winked at Giles before turning. "Oh, the usual, maim, torment, ravage, terrorize." He grinned in anticipation. "I believe I shall pay a call on the Slayer."

Giles cleared his throat pointedly.

"Oh, Ripper, please, no, don't go all reasonable on me now."

Giles glanced at Fred, who blinked. "Oh, yeah," he said, "right, sub-plots, higher plans that I don't need to know anything about, right. How about I just find something to do with our guest, here?"

"Thank you, Fred, I appreciate that."

Spike grinned as Fred hauled the mortal remains away. "Your first minion, congratulations. And one with a brain at that."

"Yes, he's very useful," said Giles. "Now, back to your plans for the evening ..."

"Ripper, don't lecture me, dammit. I have been laughed at and sneered at for too fuckin' long."

"I understand. All I'm asking is that you try to keep the Scoobies from finding out for as long as possible."

Spike sighed and went for his cigarettes. "I am so sick of walking into a room and having them look at me and shrug."

"Oh, yes, the 'oh, it's just him' look. I know it well."

"Don't you want to see the look on their faces when they realize how you've changed?"

Giles paused to think and smile, then shook himself. "I'll gloat later. But now that we've got you back on line, we need to focus on Glory. Once we have her out of the way, then we can focus on things a bit more ... personal."

Spike grinned. "Reassuring to know you have a personal agenda."

"Oh, I shan't let down the side when it comes to self-indulgence," he said with a grin. "And I have no complaints with you celebrating. Do keep in mind, though, that piles of bodies would be noticeable."

"Maybe I'll go to Willy's, pick up some snacks on the way. Shall I bring you back anybody?"

"No, thank you, I've eaten." He began tidying up his work table. "Though I'll be interested to hear how it went when you get back."

"Right-o." Spike was halfway out the door before the invitation correlated with the earlier kiss. He paused and looked back, but Giles was busy with putting supplies and tools away. Hang around and find out what was meant by all that or go out and find some mayhem? Mayhem. He hadn't lied about being hungry--though there were many kinds of hungry.

The rain had eased up so he strolled through the lovely cool night, looking for opportunity and basking in the feel of being whole. The world cowered at his feet. Glorious. He reached up to fidget with the earstud. Did he have an earring back in the '80s? Sometimes it was hard to remember.

The sounds of battle came from the cemetery ahead. Sure, he'd promised--sort of--to avoid the Slayer, but he couldn't very well avoid her if she popped up in front of him, now could he? It would be suspicious.

Buffy was fighting three vampires but didn't look too worried. Spike lurked behind a tree to watch. One vamp went to dust, the second proved to be a tougher fight, and the third tried to slink away.

"Don't you dare!" the Slayer snapped as she blocked a kick from her current foe. "I'll be pissed if I have to track you down."

"Yeah," protested the third vamp, "but you're just going to kill me!"

"If you're lucky!"

She blocked a fist with her left arm, tossed the stake in her right hand into the air, punched the vampire hard with her right hand, dazing him, then caught the stake and drove it home.

Spike applauded as the dust settled.

Buffy, already tracking the last vampire, whirled. "Oh, you." She continued after her last target.

He smiled faintly "Me. Lookin' less than perky tonight, Slayer."

"How I am looking is none of your business. Where are you, you--you vampire!"

Spike shrugged. "Fair enough. But if I can see it, odds are everybody else can too."

Buffy hesitated, then glanced at him. "What do you mean?"

"Three vamps of a distinctly lower class, and you've actually broken a sweat." He made sure she saw him observing how hard she was breathing.

"You're disgusting." She looked around. "He's gone! Dammit, you did that on purpose."

"If you let the smart ones get away, you get a better chase later."

"I don't want a better chase, I want them all to just go away!" She flopped down onto the ground and leaned against a headstone.

Spike walked slowly over and squatted down in front of her. "Seriously, Slayer, when's the last time you slept?"

"God, sleep, I've heard about that, somebody said they got some once. Is sleep nice?" She shook her head. "Never mind."

"No news on the Watcher?"

"Anya said he called the shop a couple of days ago, said he took some stuff from the shop, books and stuff. Some sort of research he can't do around us. And his apartment's been cleaned out and his car's gone. Anya said he said he probably won't be back." A tear fell from her eye and down her cheek. "He just left without a word, and then he just calls to talk to Anya about his damned store, and he didn't even leave me a message." She turned her back on him so he couldn't see her cry.

If he'd been closer he might have touched her. Which was why he'd stopped out of reach. If she knew the chip was out of action she'd never have stopped to talk to him. His demon was urging him to jump now, complete his Slayer hat trick. But she trusted him enough, despite herself, to turn her back on him and let him see, reluctantly, the pain she was in.

A lot of him wanted to attack, to finally have that last fight to prove which of them was better. He'd make her admit she was beaten, that he was stronger and tougher than she, and then he'd ... The vision always broke down there, one side of his mind blissfully imagining draining her and dropping her corpse on the ground. The other part saw himself pulling her into his arms and kissing her senseless, right before dragging her to bed and inflicting a whole different set of bruises on her. Then there was the really vicious part that voted for both options.

"Your place is empty, too," Buffy suddenly said, still facing away.

"Came to visit, did you?"

"Dawn ran off again. Anymore I look for her with you first thing. I found her sitting in the middle of that lower room crying her eyes out." Buffy glared at him over her shoulder. "She figures you got tired of her dropping in on you and you pulled a Giles."

"I thought you didn't want her coming round," he snapped, trying to ignore the knot in his gut.

She looked away, hunching her shoulders. "At least I knew where she was," she muttered. "And that she was safe. Why'd you move? We thought you might have left town for good. Xander was going to order an ice cream cake to celebrate."

Spike couldn't help snickering at the image of Xander at Baskin Robbins telling them what to put on the cake. "I don't mind the Niblet showing up on my doorstep, but all the rest of you think you can just appear like the morning milk. A bloke likes his privacy."

"Where'd you go?"

"Gonna bring a bottle of wine for a housewarming present? Help me settle in?"

"Oh, you're horrible." She scrambled to her feet. "I guess I'll go break the bad news that while we still don't have Giles we are still stuck with you."

"Tell Niblet it wasn't her. And that it's not safe to come looking for me."

Buffy studied him. "Something's up, isn't it."

"Maybe."

She sighed, then looked at him closer. "What's with the earring? That's just so 90s."

"It's got a dead bug in it, thought it looked good."

"Ick. Sometimes you are just too Addams Family." She took a deep breath and squared her shoulders. "Back to work."

"Is something going on that you have to push this hard? I thought Glory was the crisis de jour."

She shrugged. "Everybody's at the shop doing research, they keep telling me I get in the way. Pacing and asking questions and all that. Willow's being research girl and trying to keep everything organized. So I come out and patrol and check back in and hear they haven't found anything and come out and patrol again."

"And kicking ass makes some of the pain go away."

Buffy stared at him in silence, then finally nodded. Spike almost told her that her Watcher thought of her every day, that he regretted the pain she was in. But Ripper had made his plan plain, and Spike knew better than messing with master plans just to make a little chit feel better. The unrepentant part of him wondered if he could get some advantage by providing comfort later. Being evil was fun.

As she wandered off, he felt suddenly disgusted with himself for reacting like the neutered lapdog he'd been the past several months. He was tempted a moment to run after her, show her his fangs and see the dismissal in her eyes change to sweet fear. Time to follow the Klingon way, revenge was a dish best served cold.

It was almost enough to know he could kill anyone at whim as Spike strolled the street near the Bronze. He'd fought the urge so long that his demon cringed each time he assessed opportunities. The blood of the boy from earlier took the edge off the hunger, at least, so the urge to feed was as much psychological as physical. It was an act of will not to slide into game face and just start lashing out in a show of carnage not seen since he'd earned his nickname. Such a damned shame those Initiative shits weren't still around.

He paused on the corner across from the nightclub to imagine the screams he could wring from those toy soldiers. A shiver of delight went through him.

"Thinking of all the things you used to be able to do, old man?" sneered a voice from a nearby doorway.

"Still not dust, eh, Floyd?" Spike pulled out his cigarettes and lit up. "Slayer must keep throwing you back to grow."

A scrawny vampire barely twenty years turned stepped into the light. "She probably thinks we're all as harmless as you."

Spike managed not to grin too widely. "What brings you out on the streets? Run out of dogs at the pound?"

Floyd's fangs appeared as he snarled, then he shook himself and smirked. "You probably can't even touch dog. Baggie boy."

A squeal of drunken laughter from the Bronze distracted them both. A mixed group of boys and girls huddled in the doorway, deciding which way to go. Eventually a young man and woman headed up the street to the sound of catcalls from the rest of the group.

Floyd chuckled and started trailing the pair. Spike strolled after him, and the other vampire turned to glare.

"Gonna walk 'em home? Keep 'em safe to impress your Slayer?"

"Nope."

Floyd sneered. "Oh, gonna watch how it's done and reminisce? Don't get in my way, has-been." He turned and so didn't see Spike's eyes flash yellow.

The couple stumbled across the street, giggling together. They made the classic mistake of choosing to take a shortcut through the park.

Spike debated telling Floyd that the park was prime Slayer hunting territory, but decided to drop back a little. If the Slayer did show up, he still had the option of playing the great protector.

But tonight was not the lovebirds' lucky night. The Slayer was not on hand to stop Floyd, in full vamp mode, from charging out from behind a tree, bringing the boy to the ground. The girl fell, screaming, as the vampire yanked his victim's head back and dove into the jugular. She scrambled to her feet, looked around desperately, and saw a figure in the shadows, a slender man with pale hair and a long black coat.

"Help me! Please, help me!" She stumbled to him and clutched his arm. "Please, help."

He caught her and held her up, smiling kindly. "Havin' some trouble, pet?" He glanced over at the dying boy, and when he looked back at the girl his forehead was gnarled, his blue eyes were yellow, and fangs backed the smile. "Just not your night, love."

She got off one piercing shriek before fangs silenced her.

Floyd looked up in surprise from the dregs of his meal. "Huh?"

Spike held the girl close as he drained her, not sure if he loved the taste more or the way she struggled against him before going limp. He licked his lips and kissed her forehead before letting her fall. "Thanks for the welcome home, pretty."

Floyd, still crouched on the ground, stared. "What? But--you can't ..."

Spike pulled out another cigarette as he sauntered over. "'Has-been', I believe, was the phrase you used." Still with his demon face on, he smiled down at the other vampire as he pulled his lighter to fire up the cigarette.

"Oh, gosh ..."

"Baggie boy, now, that was a bit clever, you can't have thought it up yourself."

"Spike, you know--wow, you're better, who knew?"

He studied the flame on his lighter, watching the way the breeze played with the fire. "Old man, now, that's nothing but the truth, I was destroying villages before your grandparents were even born."

"You're right, yeah, when it comes to mayhem, there's nobody around to match you."

Few vamps groveled as well as Floyd. Spike changed his mind and flicked the lighter closed. "For creatures as old as us, it's a real pity how bad memories can be." He kicked Floyd, the toe of his boot catching the other vampire just under the chin and throwing him a good dozen feet before he hit the ground. "Might be time for some reminding." He hopped lightly over the body on the ground and strolled over to where Floyd was dragging himself up.

"God, Spike, please ..."

It was pleasant to hear God and Spike together in the same pleading breath. He chuckled as he grabbed the front of Floyd's shirt and hauled him up. "I'm not going to kill you tonight, Floyd, and do you know why?"

"N--n--no, why?"

"Because it's something I'd want to take my time over, and it's going to be dawn in a couple of hours, and I want to get home and find out what someone was thinking when they kissed me earlier tonight. But if that doesn't go well, I might just come out tomorrow night and pick up where we left off. Does that sound like fun?"

Floyd gaped at him, obviously trying to decide what answer would continue his existence. "Uh, no--yeah--um, good luck?"

"You're such a little worm, Floyd. I like that about you."

Spike tossed Floyd into a nearby tree, half hoping that the Slayer would be by to find the vampire in the presence of two bled-out bodies. He was so looking forward to terrorizing the citizens of the night into having proper respect for William the Bloody again. But first, back to Sunrise Grove and an ex-Watcher who was waiting to hear how the night had gone.

He headed off, whistling, occasionally throwing in the words: "... each step along the highway. And more, much more than this, I did it my way!"

***

Sammy was hanging out near the door when Spike strolled up, looking very content with the world.

"Mornin', Spike," he grinned.

"Mornin', Sammy."

"Have a good night?"

"Lovely night. I've missed making people scream. See ya later."

"Later."

Spike felt a bit sleepy as he headed down to the basement. He hadn't fed so well in months. The demon was circling in his mind like a dog treading out a nest to settle into. But curling up alone wouldn't be nearly as pleasant as having a congenial companion to curl up with.

The library was empty, but the door to Giles' room, one of several that had been destined to be a meeting room, was half open. The sound of Italian opera came out along with the smell of tea. Spike tapped lightly on the door before going in.

Most of Giles' old furniture had been set up in here. He sat in his favorite reading chair with his feet up on an ottoman as he flipped through ...

"A gardening catalog?" Spike said in disbelief.

"Yes, a gardening catalog. I always meant to take advantage of California's growing season, but never got the chance. With the children accepting I'm still about, I should be able to use my credit cards again." He put the catalog aside. "How did your walk go?"

Spike remembered Buffy arriving at her Watcher's apartment after patrols to report. "Went well, had a pretty girl for afters, put the fear of me into a particularly weaselly little specimen called Floyd." He saw Giles frown. "I agreed to keep the Scoobies from knowing I was better, but I am not going to take shit from bloody little fledglings anymore."

Giles nodded. "I don't blame you. By the time any gossip reaches Buffy, it might well be academic."

"And if she asks, I can put her off. If I can keep Angelus from knowing I could walk, I can keep the Slayer from knowing I can bite."

"Was this Floyd surprised?"

Spike went to stretch out on the couch. "Begged for his life, he did. Floyd always was one to know where his best interest lay. Might've dusted him anyway, but I wanted to get back."

"Why?"

"Because I wanted to talk to you about earlier."

"Earlier?"

"When I kissed you and you kissed me back."

"Oh, yes." Giles smiled. "It was an emotional moment."

"Not to say I never thought about sneaking up on you one of those mornings when you were wandering around your place half-asleep, but I didn't know you might be thinkin' the same."

Giles chuckled. "If it ever crossed my mind, I'd have denied it violently and written it off to the unnatural abilities of vampires. Don't smirk like that."

"And just how often did you think about the unnatural abilities of vampires?" Spike asked, cocking an eyebrow suggestively.

"All the time, and in no pleasant way, while Buffy was with Angel. I was almost relieved when Angelus appeared to show her his true nature." He sipped his tea and didn't look at Spike. "While I was ... in Angelus' care, I remember watching you, wondering why you kept distracting him. I assumed later that it was part of your ploy to gain Buffy's help in dealing with Angelus. But I will admit now that I felt--less desperate when you were in the room. And it seemed a pity that you were trapped in that chair. Having you at full strength and terrorizing the community was not of the good, as the children would say, but seeing you helpless was ... upsetting."

"I could think of much better things to do with you than beating you bloody myself. But the poof wasn't in the mood to share, and I talked him out of some plans of his own along those lines."

Giles winced. "Thank you. Angelus' ideas of creativity were disturbing."

"And you only got a few hours of him." Spike shook himself. The poof's kinks were not the subject he wanted to address. "I did enjoy watching you sneer at him. Made me think you might be worth some effort." He sighed melodramatically. "All that wasted time when I was chained up alone in the tub, tsk."

"Hardly. When you weren't being loudly obnoxious, you were sulking and brooding--"

"I was not!"

"It's not attractive in Angel, and it's not attractive in you."

"I. Do. Not. Brood."

"Will you concede sulking?"

He shrugged sullenly and looked away.

Giles managed not to smile too hard. "As often as I was tempted to stake you for being an ass, I wanted to stake you for being a caricature of your old self. It's kinder to kill the tiger than to put it in a cage where it can only pace back and forth."

Spike looked up, pleased at the analogy. "A tiger, huh?"

"It's not original to me. The girls have been known to chat amongst themselves when they thought I was out of earshot. No self-respecting male should be forced to listen to women speaking bluntly amongst themselves."

"Brutal?"

"Terrifying. Though I did learn that I could be presentable if I was kept out of tweed, and whomever did your laundry was to be thanked for shrinking your jeans. Oh, and Anya proposed a conspiracy to hide all your shirts."

"Anyone take her up on it?" Spike asked, preening.

"No, but there was a very thoughtful silence for several seconds."

Spike considered things for a bit. "So there may have been some ulterior motives in you turning off this chip."

"Beyond getting you to full strength for when we deal with Glory?" He smiled and made no bones about looking Spike over. "Yes, there were ulterior motives. I am ... quite pleased to see you back to your old self."

Spike smiled lazily. "I think you look best out of tweed myself. Then again, I imagine you look good out of anything."

Giles finished his tea and put the cup and saucer on the table next to his chair. "It's getting late. I think it's time for bed."

"I think you're right." Spike got to his feet and stretched. "Mine's bigger."

"I beg your pardon!"

He blinked, then laughed. "I was talking about beds."

"Oh." It was a very good thing that vampires could no longer blush. "Yes, of course."

"Though if you were referring to something else ..."

The smile was pure Ripper. "You'll just have to find out."

* * * * *

Spike's room looked very much like a late Victorian man's den, all rich carpets and too much furniture. Pride of place went to the elaborate stereo and TV system in the entertainment center at the far end of the room from the big wooden bed.

"Where did you get that?" Giles asked, staring at the TV.

"Fred and Sammy found a Circuit City delivery truck being hijacked near here. Fred had the hijacker, Sammy had the driver, they drove the truck back here. I think they kept a big screen for themselves, but I grabbed this stuff and they're selling the rest."

He pulled off his duster and hung it carefully on the hall tree next to the door. As he turned, he saw Giles raise his eyes quickly from where they'd been looking. Spike grinned. "How often did you check out my ass when I was at your place?"

"Never."

"And I know you copped feels when you were chaining me up."

"I did not!"

"Oh, no need to protest like that to me, mate, I could have mentioned it if it bothered me. But I was too busy enjoying your little morning rituals when you thought you had me parked out of the way."

"What do you mean?" Giles asked narrowly.

"I love mirrors. I could see you but you couldn't see me. If I stretched just right I could catch a view into your bathroom from your dresser mirror. Shouldn't leave the door open like that."

Giles crossed his arms and tried to glare. "You watched me in the bathroom."

"Um hm. We can work out a payment plan for me never telling a soul about your Robert Plant imitations in the shower. Mostly, though, I liked watching you shave. Especially when you worked on that section right here." He reached out and ran a finger lightly along Giles' neck where the jugular ran.

"I remember nicking myself there one morning," Giles said softly, "and being very glad that you weren't around to see."

Spike nodded. "If those chains had been any less tough, you'd have found out what I could see."

"You watched me all that time, but you never let on."

"Didn't think you'd appreciate it. Only time I ever heard you say a bloke's name in your sleep, you didn't sound happy. Who's Randall?" Spike blinked at the glare he got.

"Randall is not anyone with whom you need concern yourself." Giles sighed. "Poor, dear Randall." He saw Spike's curious look and smiled reluctantly. "Someone with whom I did my best to reject everything I was raised to believe, and that's all you're going to hear about this from me."

"Chum from your school days?" Spike asked with a grin. "Someone to commiserate with after the bullies got done with you?

"I've only heard horror stories about what schools were like in your day--" He nodded at the flash of memories in the other vampire's eyes "--but my school was nothing like that. My father, having had his own experiences as a lad, for some reason did not think that what was good enough for him was good enough for me. So I had to wait till Oxford to act an idiot." He shook his head. "Lord, when Wesley walked in, oozing that sanctimonious public school aura, throwing his pathetic authority around, I could just picture him in a dormitory somewhere, making some poor first-year boy ..."

"Needn't stop for my tender ears, Ripper," Spike said when he paused. "Let me guess, you felt an urge to give him back a little of what he handed out? Do we need to be making that LA road trip earlier than I planned?"

Images flashed through Giles' mind, then he shook himself. "No, we don't have time for that."

"Yet."

Giles smiled crookedly at Spike. "Yet. But first there are plans to take care of."

"I've had enough of plans for tonight." Spike slid a hand under Giles sweater and discovered nothing but skin underneath. "No shirt?"

"I like the feel of silk and cashmere against the skin." He ran the edge of the red silk shirt's collar through his fingers. "So do you, apparently."

"Only when I can't have somebody else's skin against mine." Holding Giles' eyes with his, Spike ran both hands under the sweater and pushed it up. Giles took over and pulled it off. "And no one ever thought of stealing your shirts," Spike said thoughtfully, running his fingers along muscles.

"Apparently not." Giles started on the shirt buttons but didn't stop when he got to the end, continuing down to the zipper of Spike's tight jeans. Spike closed his eyes. The male hand reminded him of Angelus, but this touch, surprisingly experienced, was gentle. The potential for something rougher was there, but he knew he'd have to go looking for it if he wanted it. Maybe later.

While Giles' hands were busy, Spike slid his own into Giles' hair and pulled him close for a hard kiss, then he reached down for the buttons on Giles' slacks. They weren't as tight as the jeans and slithered obediently down and out of the way. Impatiently, Spike went to his knees to get closer to Giles' cock.

"Very nice," he murmured to himself, fondling the shaft and caressing the balls. Luckily there was a table nearby for Giles to lean on as he wobbled, especially when Spike's cold mouth slowly encircled and pulled him in.

Spike thought of a fantasy of his, of cornering the Watcher in his kitchen some morning, pushing him back against the refrigerator and making him moan helplessly. This was close enough. One hand cradled the testicles while the other slid around Giles' hip to his ass and played delicately with the opening.

Giles buried the hand that wasn't leaning on the table in Spike's hair and tried to quicken the motions. He felt the vampire laugh, then a finger slid inside him. His knees wobbled. Spike's cold tongue caressed his balls briefly, then his mouth went around Giles' cock again, just as another finger found its way in behind. Giles yelled something incoherent as he came, and he was no longer holding himself up. Finally Spike helped him slip to the soft rugs on the floor.

"I love it when the person I'm fucking screams when they come," Spike said, smiling proudly.

Giles forced himself to focus. "Do you scream?"

"You'll see."

Giles realized those insistent fingers were still at work in his ass. "If we're going to do it on the floor, why'd we leave my room?"

"Fair enough."

The big wooden bed was more than roomy enough. Spike hastily got rid of his clothes, snapping the lace on one boot when it knotted on him. Giles ran appreciative hands along the parts he could reach as Spike joined him in bed.

"I believe you said yours was bigger," Giles said thoughtfully.

Spike's eyes almost crossed at the feel of fingers weighing his balls. "Might take--some thorough investigation. Later." He tugged the hand carefully away, then leaned down to kiss his bedmate as he went exploring behind again. Giles kissed him back thoroughly, then grinned and shifted around for a better angle.

"God, I can't wait to see you in leather," Spike said, running his hands up Giles' legs to his butt. His eyes went up to Giles' back, and to the scars. At least he'd kept things from being worse. Once while Angelus had been out disemboweling minions in frustration, Spike had rolled his wheelchair to the door of the room Giles was kept in. Even in extreme pain, the Watcher had fought from letting his captors see how bad it was. British stiff upper lip or simple sheer cussedness? Regardless, seeing the man helpless had both annoyed and excited Spike. If he hadn't had Dru around to distract him ... He ran a light hand along one particularly bad scar, wishing it wasn't there.

"Don't," Giles said softly. "It doesn't matter now. Just ..."

"Right. It doesn't matter now." He had what Angelus could never get anyway, the Watcher willing and eager. Spike was petty enough to really enjoy that. Smiling smugly, he reached down to find the right angle to slide in.

"Dear god," Giles whispered. He couldn't do more than gasp until Spike was all the way in and tight against him.

"If I'd known you felt this good," Spike murmured into his ear, "I really would have sneaked up on you in your kitchen."

"I'd have staked you."

"Bet you wouldn't have." Spike begin to move and reached around to hold Giles' cock. Giles groaned and put his hand over Spike's as he pushed back. Drunk with the unexpectedness of Giles' welcome and the knowledge that he was whole again, Spike knew he wasn't going to last much longer. Holding on with a grip that would have broken human bones, he wrapped his arms around Giles and moved as hard as he could. They both yelled out at the end of it all.

They lay there together, content, for quite a while. Giles idly stroked Spike's leg as Spike rested his head on his shoulder. "We are going to tear this town apart," Spike finally muttered into Giles' ear.

"Yes, we are," Giles said in satisfaction. He nearly yawned. "After a nap."

"Right."

He looked over his shoulder and let Ripper out. "And then it's my turn."

"Good."

Read the next chapter: Burdens