This is set in my non-canon, but canon-esque series following Uncontrollable and Unmentionable. If you haven't read those first, please do, or this won't read nearly as well or make much sense. Unknown begins a few weeks after the end of Unmentionable, around the beginning of season five.
Author's notes: Sorry for the delay. Story juggling. Bear with me on this chapter. It's full of discussion, thoughts, and some sudden motions, but that's life. And this story isn't just about taking on some big bad, it's about people trying to have the things everyone wants- a healthy, happy normal life, with a person they love. I hope you enjoy my efforts.
Author's Second Note: Voting is open at Sunnydale Memorial Awards. A bunch of my pieces, including this one, have been nominated. Go vote if you'd like to show some support for the stories and the stories of so many other talented writers. Thank you.
Dedicated to: Alexiarrose, CavemenFTW, skeezixx, ginar369, Sirius120, omslagspapper, Annamonk, Jewel74, Alottalove, kerry220, jackiemack916, DidiSummers and kse93. I have no words for how much your kindness means to me.
Direct Quotes are obviously not mine, but belong to the fabulously talented and creative people who wrote them. In this case, some of season five's dialogue will be used.
Disclaimer: Nothing of Buffy belongs to me, except my sincere admiration. However, this story is all mine.
"Ding dong, Avon calling." Spike entered the house with a push on the door, striding in, out of the sun. He realized, that in his mind, he had begun to call it "Joyce's", not Buffy's. 'Cause Buffy and him, they already had a home of their own. He was more content, more sure of them, than anything he'd ever been in his life, especially after last night's little "elemental exercise".
"Good morning." Giles greeted him in the hall with an eye roll, sipping coffee hurriedly, and straightening his tie.
"My my. Don't we look tweedy today." Spike snarked and entered. "Aren't you a bit done up to go to the shop?"
Giles didn't say he was planning to call the Council by the end of that day. Nor did he say that he'd unthinkingly dressed in his most "proper" suit, and just now realized it when Spike mentioned it. "I'm the 'expert art consultant' in your stead." Giles smiled thinly, and ushered him into the dining room, making sure the blinds were closed.
"Demon gal knows how to turn a profit, give you that." Spike chuckled. "Some bigwig buyer due today?"
"No." Giles drained his coffee. Just some bigwigs I hope will toss me a scrap of information. Dear Lord, I even dressed the part. Look at me, in my "power suit". He adjusted his tie with another agitated tug. "I hope you've eaten, I just realized we have coffee, but no blood."
"Full up." Spike swung his leg over a chair, and propped one boot on another as he got comfy. Slayer blood must be original power drink, with only a few sips, he felt like he'd devoured ten men. "I won't go snackin' on anyone." He smirked.
Giles gave him an icy glare. "Don't joke."
"Sorry." Spike replied- then blustered. "I mean- evil. I'll joke about it all I want. But I won't- yeah. Well. I jus' wouldn't."
The ice thawed. "I know." Giles sighed. "Joyce's still asleep. She's better than she was, but she still..." How to put it delicately? "There's still moments when she seems unclear."
"No appointment today, are there?"
"No, tomorrow. But, with Buffy at class and the others working or at the college, I thought it wouldn't hurt to have someone here."
They stared. Vampire spilling out of his coat, lazing arrogantly in a chair, curator-librarian-Watcher turned art consultant, standing stiff and formal above him. "Wonders never cease." Giles raised a single eyebrow and turned, walking into the kitchen. "She may well kick you out."
"Hope she doesn't. It's sunny."
"If she says she's fine-"
"Yeah, well, Slayer'll say she's fine when her world is crumbling and she's been pounded into flank steak. 'Fine' is relative with these two."
Giles yelped and dropped his rinsed mug with a clatter onto the drainboard, as Spike was suddenly, noiselessly behind him. "Don't do that!"
He smiled broadly. "I can make myself agreeable, when I want to. I'll look after her."
As odd as it was, Giles found that very comforting to know as he headed out. "I'm sure you will."
Spike nodded, and began rummaging about for a coffee cup of his own. "Return the favor. Look out for my girl, all right?" He asked, without meeting the other man's eyes.
Researching. Calling. Possibly groveling. There were many ways to 'look after' Buffy indirectly. Spike knew that. "I will."
"Will you put those away? It's bad for business!" Anya rushed at Giles and Tara with a dust cloth and a scowl. "You'll freak out the customers!"
Tara guiltily began to close one of the stack of books Giles had brought with him to the store that day. Giles did not, instead calmly flipping a page.
"What customers would those be?" He peered down at something, and motioned casually for Tara to continue reading as well.
"We don't have any now. Probably because they don't know how much wonderful art and expert knowledge we have inside. Hey- if I put up a chair and a display easel outside, we could sit you out there and have you start talking about-"
"I'm a former curator, not a mime. I don't do performance art. I don't want people throwing money at me as I write up provenances." Giles muttered.
"They throw money?" Anya's eyes widened and almost glowed. "Tara, would you like to-"
"Anya!" Giles snapped. "We have to multi-task. Research while the shop isn't busy."
"Easy for you to say. Art isn't as profitable as other stuff." Anya huffed and left them alone at the back counter.
"Rupert?" Joyce's confused voice called down the stairs. She woke up alone. After years of waking up in that same state, and just a few weeks of waking up with someone beside her, she felt off kilter.
Which matched the rest of her world. She stood slowly, woozily, and the room rapidly tilted sideways. "Great." She chuckled and shook her head. From strong, independent woman to needing a walker in just one easy tumor...
"I'm not Rupert, but will another Englishman do?" Spike's voice, uncomfortably close, just outside her door, scared her and made her jump. Spike could hear her heartbeat suddenly increase and he kicked himself. "Sorry to startle you. I know you don't have a doctor's appointment or anything today, but thought you might want some company. Rupes let me in." He explained quickly, almost apologetically.
Joyce rose again, hastily, grabbing her robe, tightening her scarf, reaching for that preposterously Farrah Fawcett style wig Buffy and Anya had picked out for her...
Spike winced as he heard things clattering, a little grunt, and a strained cry of "Just a minute!"
"I can wait downstairs!"
So he did.
It was one of those extremely long fifteen minutes that feels like two hours. If he could have chain smoked without bringing down the wrath of the lady of the house, he would've finished half a pack. "Joyce?" He finally called up.
"Right there!" Her muffled shout came down, and was shortly followed by the woman herself, dressed in faded blue sweats and with some skillfully applied make up.
Always the gentlewoman. Right to the end. Spike's memories of his mother's pale, but perfect face merged and marred with Joyce's, and he cursed vehemently in his head. There's no end this time! No end. Not now. "Don't you look fetching. New style?"
"New hair." Joyce tugged the pale blue silk scarf over her wig down more tightly.
"Ah." Of all the things I could've opened with...
"Are you hungry?" Joyce asked, ever the maternal hostess. Then winced slightly. And what if he is? Are you going to go bleed a steer for him? Of all the dangerous things to say...
"I'm full." Spike smiled slightly, though trying to look reassuring. He just wouldn't say where he'd gotten his meal. He cleared his throat. "Thought you might be peckish. Eggs? Toast?"
"Toast, please." Joyce shuddered at the thought of eggs.
"Off your food?" He asked sympathetically.
"Everything about me is 'off' these days." Joyce admitted ruefully.
"Well, tea and toast has sorted most of the British empire's troubles..." Spike was to his feet and off into the kitchen before she could even make her unsteady way to the couch.
"You sound so much like Rupert sometimes." Joyce admitted with a laugh.
"Bloody hell." Spike swore softly and began filling the pot.
The conversation was stilted. A few easy moments flowed, the rest was guarded and polite. Joyce didn't actually feel "afraid" of him. More like wary. She also kept looking at him, trying to peer inside the monster, see if there was a man underneath.
Spike squirmed. That look. She was trying to see right through him, see the clockworks- the secrets ones. It made him edgy, less civil than he should have been. I shouldn't be 'civil' anyway! Vampire. Evil. Demon.
Lonely. Missing her, or someone like her. Loving someone more than this cautious woman would ever know, and loving her by extension because of it.
"Don't you have to go to sleep?" Joyce's voice demanded suddenly.
"Oh. I-uh- I can keep goin' when I need to." Slayer blood. The superhuman's energy drink.
Joyce envied him for a moment. Never having to worry about tiring, about ailing, about... dying. Unless someone like Buffy killed him. He made sure that would never happen. Suspicions chased each other around her already dizzy, tired mind, until the overwhelming exhaustion made her simply say, "You're lucky."
"Oh, I know." Spike said with a cocky grin. "I like this form. The speed. The strength." He stopped there.
"Must be nice." Joyce said dully, but her eyes seemed to sharpen, more alert, more- mistrustful.
Shit. Spike smoothed back his already perfect shining sheath of platinum. "Well... I have a reason, see. Lived in Victoria's time- one of her weedier subjects. Not that strong. A gentleman never runs, so I don't know if I was fast. I was smart. Kept that." He tapped his cranium.
She smiled, cocked her head as she watched him start talking, always gazing at his hands, as if he wasn't spilling his secrets if he didn't acknowledge the other person in the room. "Smart?"
"I went to University. I was going to be a poet. Like Keats. Or Shelley. Even Byron. That's who I wanted to be like. Byron. Romantic, dashing, a wooer of words. Only not so miserable and without syphilis. An' not dyin' so young, either."
Joyce sat up slightly. That obviously hadn't worked, because here he sat, unbreathing, frozen in time. "So what happened?"
"Misery won out one night." He met her eyes for the first time in several minutes.
That was an odd thing to say, an odd way to phrase it. Or maybe, Joyce thought, I'm just too foggy to understand him.
"Dyin' young, but livin' forever. That's the dream. Thought it would be through my words not- not myself. But then I wouldn't have met Buffy, would I?" Spike finished with a grin.
"The fact that my baby is dating someone who should have died- no, did die, but came back as some sort of half-human- a hundred years ago..." Joyce shook her head, clearly displeased with that notion, and pretended she didn't see the spasm of pain on his face. Monsters don't feel pain.
He's not all monster. He's part man.
A man who doesn't leave her. And that's what made him real. She thought back to that conversation she had with Giles several days ago, weeks ago. Real men don't leave.
He thinks misery, early death, and even staying in this half-life is worth it, just so he had a chance to meet her.
As she softened, he toughened. Snark, sneers, smirks, all a good mask, and not as lumpy and scary as his other one. "Yeah, well, the way Slayer studies- good thing I've seen a century and a half, alive an' dead. Consider me her walkin' talkin' tutorial on history. Know a fair bit about other things, too."
Joyce smiled faintly. "She has such problems with studying."
"Don't have to tell me. I understand though. When you've got somethin' nasty to hunt, the rise of Buddhism and the Impressionists seem pretty dull."
A sudden little twinge inside a weary brain, a passion that was still there, just buried under invoices and single parenting- "You- you lived through the Impressionistic period. You were there."
"Impressionists, and after. I met Van Gogh once. Bloody gloomy, though."
"You met-? How?"
I think we ate someone and took their invitation to a garret party in Paris. "A party. He wasn't famous then. Just a struggling artist." An' I used to be a struggling poet. Dru just liked to play about on rooftops, closer to the stars so she could hear 'em whisper.
"You never told me any of this."
"You never seemed to want to chat about, well, me." He flashed a wider smile before, one that was slightly mischievous, an acknowledgement that he knew why she treated him with civility and some consideration- and nothing more.
"I thought it'd be hours of you listing people you killed." Joyce gave him a pointed look.
"Done other things. Seen other things." He admitted with a shrug.
"Really? Tell me."
"Hmm... Hm?... Oh!" Giles sat up excitedly, unbending his spine from its bookworm crouch over a heavy volume.
"Are you going to make noises like a baboon or tell us?" Anya hissed, and looked anxiously at a customer entering the shop. "And ix-nay on the ooky-spay ounding-say uff-stay!"
Giles ignored her instructions, pointed excitedly at some very fine print. "It's here in the Rarissimus Omniscium Objectium." He held out the book to Tara. "It's a mere footnote, but it's here."
"Finally! What is it, where's it from, what's it do?" Anya demanded.
Tara squinted and read aloud in a hushed voice. "The so-named Dagon Sphere has a history going back many centuries, beyond early - early recall?" The print was faded and spidery.
"Meaning they don't know its origin, keep going." Giles hurried her on.
"A protective device, believed to be contained, but not fashioned-"
"So they stuck it- whatever it is- in the golden bouncy ball, but they didn't make the magic inside, I'm following you." Anya nodded, then belied her words by turning attentively back to the patron who'd just entered.
"A protective device to ward off ancient primordial evil." Tara finished a sentence and looked up. "Primordial?"
Giles knew she was not asking him the meaning, rather repeating the information incredulously, worriedly. "Yes. primordial. Before life. Our kind of life anyway."
"A-at least it protects." Tara nodded and stammered shakily. "P-primordial magic. That's older than the old ways. That's- that's - Giles, what could it ward off? Demons?"
He shook his head after a moment. "Demons have names. I had thought, perhaps, it was evil itself. We have- hrm- faced that before. Not pleasant." He polished his glasses with a sudden nervous gesture. "But had that been the case, I don't believe the term 'primordial' would be used. Evil is usually simply called- erm- evil." He replaced the spectacles and peered over her shoulder, pointing to the painfully small writing. "It is believed to repel That Which Cannot Be Named."
"Something that you can't name? That has no name?" Tara felt an uncomfortable knot of ice slip down her spine and land in her stomach. "Things which have no voice..." Her wide eyes were suddenly frightened, and looking past him, through him.
I am a Channeler. A Conduit. They call me, chose me, to speak for them, because they have no words. No language. No name.
"Tara, it's only to ward off evil- that is something you will never be. No matter who says it. They can say something a million times. It doesn't make it true." Giles bent his knees, letting his head become level with the book, seeking out her downcast eyes.
"I- I speak for things which have no voice. No name." Tara repeated aloud.
"You speak for that which has no language- but there are names." He reached for her hand, and the deftly rested on the book instead. "The Dagon doesn't repel you."
"No... not yet."
"Tara, my dear girl." He was forced to smile. "You may be wise beyond your years, you may even be what we call an 'old soul'- but you are hardly 'primordial'."
It went so well. For an hour, maybe a bit longer, they were two old friends, from the cultured set by the sounds of it, rambling on about this and that. A cuppa and a sandwich, a talk show on in the background, her on the couch, him sprawled inelegantly in a high backed chair.
Then, as if someone flipped a switch, it changed. Joyce put down her mug with a laugh, and looked over towards the television as a commercial came on, and let out a pained moan. "Why do they make those ads so bright?" She demanded, wincing, shielding her eyes with her hand. "Spike, that's too bright. It's too bright, turn that off."
"Right-o." He moved like a flash, turning it off, and settling back, only to hear her take a sharp breath in, a deep, pained sound. "Joyce?"
"The lights! It's too bright, it's too bright!"
"I'll get the lights, just a second." Spike tried to sound soothing, but he thought he heard an edge of panic in his voice instead. Soon the living room was dark, only daylight outlining the curtained windows made a break in the shady room.
"You missed one!" Joyce spoke accusingly.
The sudden change gave him the chills. Everything about this, actually, gave him the chills. The room steeped in shadows...all sickbeds and parlors were like this. His mum's had been. Her eyes hurt her too, at the end. But she'd still been sweet- until the mistake he made. Then, hard, angry, insinuating...
"Are you trying to hurt me?"
"What? No!" I only wanted to make you well... Make her well.
"Then put that out! I won't have it in here, I told you!" She pointed a finger at him, eyes open a mere sliver.
"I'll leave. I'll leave, if you want, Luv." Spike soothed. "Let me get Buffy. Or Giles. You want Buffy or-"
"Don't patronize me, just put out that fire! What are you smoking, a flame thrower?" Joyce gave a sudden fretful whimper and stared at him.
"I'm not smoking!"
"Oh, you. I know about you. Glowing. Glowing, glowing, glowing, hurting my eyes. But it's your eyes that glow, I've seen them, I've seen them outside the house, lurking there, waiting for her, with their bright yellow eyes..."
"Joyce." Spike kept calm, and cursed his soul. Would it have given him the godawful shivers if he'd been nothing but demon? A mother's gaunt face, changing, haunted him always. So don't blame the soul. "Joyce, no one is gonna hurt Buffy. 'Specially not me. An' I'm not smokin' and my eyes- I'm in my human face, they're blue, see?" He came closer to her, and she recoiled.
Her voice was hectoring, fast, more to herself than to him now. "She thinks I didn't see it, but I did. When they change. It's not your eyes. You're not just a monster. You're real. You're real. I talked to Rupert, and you're both real, you and him, real because you won't leave." Joyce babbled, clutching her throw blanket tighter, like a frightened child.
"Shh. Shh, I won't leave, and I won't change, I promise."
"But you did. It's not your eyes glowing now, it's inside you."
"Turn it off! Turn it off!"
He retreated several steps, put most of him back behind a chair, and stood, looking at her helplessly. "I don't think I have an off button, Joyce." He murmured.
Joyce let out a furious groan, and shifted, turning to face the back of the couch. "What's doing this?"
Wouldn't they all like to know. Why so far into her treatment she suddenly seemed worse? "Just a bit of healin'." He whispered, daring to come a little closer.
"What makes you glow?" She demanded impatiently, shaking her head.
Spike paused. A soul. Monks. A "Key". Fate. A God with an odd sense of humor. But why? Why everything else?
"Buffy." He said softly.
Her eyes flared open, and the light stung and flooded them for a second, before all she could divine was a soft sort of candle-like flicker from where he stood. "What?"
"I- she ... I never was in love. Before her. Not properly, not like this." He was improvising, yet, like so many of his brashest lies, there was some truth. He disliked having a soul thrust upon him, but he did like the awareness of his "soul mate". He had come to find, with it or without it, his other half, his perfectly matched girl... The soul deepens everything. Everything was there before. We'd be fine without it. But still, this "glow"? Had to be what makes his soul sing. And hadn't they given it to him because he was cleansed by love? "The glow, it's because of her."
"I never saw it before." Joyce pointed out accusingly.
That's a fact.
"She thought you loved her before. Did you lie? Do you love her now, but didn't earlier ?"
"NO!" Spike shouted. Joyce jumped. "No." He repeated emphatically. "I loved her before, I loved her without the glow- I mean-" Fuck this. I'm starting to sound like the wicca birds. "Look, when one sense fails, right? Maybe another one takes over."
Joyce mulled this over briefly. Senses failing? Her brain was failing. Without that, you have nothing. It controls everything. Everything would fail. "Yes, I'm failing." She admitted bitterly.
"Not you. Not for long." Spike said with confidence he forced himself to feel. "But look, your body isn't at its best today, maybe it stopped puttin' up a barrier. Maybe your mind is letting you see more clearly because-"
"My eyes are worse. They're not better than before." Joyce refused to hear a sugarcoated lie. Not from him. Not today. Not about this.
"Not the eyes." Spike said through gritted teeth. "Not 'see' with your eyes. See as in 'understand'. See as in 'know'. What you see, it isn't really there, it's just- you know it's there." He failed miserably at explaining. He had a feeling that he'd done it before, too, a long, long time ago, failing to explain what another mother should do, should know.
"You see me glow... because she lights me up. From the inside out." Spike touched his chest. "Poet or not, Joyce, there is something to love that words can't describe, that just- there's an effulgence." He whispered. "Someone else saw it in me, a long time ago, but it wasn't real. The glow wouldn't stick. This, whatever you see, that's real. She's the fire inside me. I'll burn for her if I have to."
Joyce's battling mind, fighting against itself, waging an ever changing war, suddenly seemed to slow. That she could sometimes see a bright cluster around him, or in him, that made no sense, and even now, that impression was fading. Lucidity returned, and it banished the golden overtones she thought she'd seen. Thought. Key word. Side effects causing hallucinations.
"I'm sorry." Joyce said tiredly. "I don't know what came over me..." Her hand felt her forehead, now moist and warm. "What was I saying? No, never mind. Nonsense."
Spike began to protest, then stopped. Quickly as the fit had arrived, it had left, and thank bloody heaven. "You look feverish. You want the air on? Maybe an ice water?"
"Ice water. Yes." Joyce lay back, drowsy now, the room still faintly circling, but it was a normal room once more, not too bright, not full of strange lights.
Lights. It made no sense that she would see something "glowing" inside. Silliness.
But was there something shining in him?
"She lights up around you, too." Joyce mumbled sleepily as he came back, handing her the sweating glass.
"Buffy. You light up for her. But she- she glows when you're around. She - you're so dark. But you make her shine. I can believe you'd shine back." She closed her eyes with a weary sigh.
"She's my fire." Spike confirmed, taking the glass from her suddenly limp fingers. "All in all, my flame..."
"It's older than elemental magic. Fire, water, air, earth- that's ancient. Those are the beginning elements of life."
"Ohhhh. Elemental. Duh. I can't believe I just got that." Xander said through a mouth full of powdered sugar and jam.
"Eat over the bin or use a napkin." Giles protectively took the book from Willow and Xander, who were reading as Tara clarified.
"What's older than the basis of the effing world?" Spike demanded.
"I said that! Only more politely, and softly, because I had some old lady deciding whether to buy that hideous yellow topaz ring Giles bought from an estate sale."
"Wait, I'm confused. You said older than the beginning of life, but, there isn't anything older." Buffy swallowed her doughnut and protested.
"Haven't you been paying attention in your religions class?" Giles chided gently, without seriousness.
"I so have!"
"Before the world was made- someone had to think of how to make it." Anya snapped her fingers.
"But- but..." Buffy looked helplessly at her friends. "But there's a lot of ways people say the world was made! In Greek myths heaven and earth went all groin-y and boom- Titans. Or was that elephants? Whatever. Then you have God. And then you have Shiver, Ginsu, and the third guy. And we know there are the 'Powers that Be', which is maybe all of them, or none of them, or- oh hey, wait, isn't Ginsu a knife?"
"As seen on television." Xander said gravely.
"She means the Hindu creation story." Willow corrected.
"You've hit one nail on the head." Giles held up his hand. "There are many stories, and many realms, and many of them true. But I don't think Anya was saying this repelled a god."
"Thank- oh. I mean, that's good." Buffy looked relieved.
Tara hesitantly interjected, "He means before there were words, and before their were worlds- there were thoughts. Some living consciousness, some all powerful force... Ancient beings formed the elements from that. M-maybe. It's one way to l-look at it."
Xander shook his head. "You mean the orb-y whatsis can repel thoughts? What kind of use is that? How could you even check? You'd have to have someone thinking and know what they were thinking, to be able to tell you were repelling their thoughts. Pointless. And you'd need a psychic."
"No psychics needed in this group." Spike groaned. "Those two-" he pointed to Anya and Xander, "horny. Him, worried." He pointed to Giles. "Nervous, anxious, and you can't wait to make yourselves more anxious by studyin' up on the books." He pointed to Willow and Tara, and then ended with himself and Buffy, "Restless. Gotta kill somethin'. I was sittin' still all day. I can only play so many hands of gin rummy before I go barmy."
Silence filled the room. Anya broke it. "Yay me. Not the most blunt and awkward for a change."
Giles sighed and Buffy kicked Spike in the shin, mouthing "Apologize!", which he ignored. "I do need to get home. That is, to Joyce."
"We'll go. I will, it's my turn." Buffy jumped up quickly. "It's not late enough to patrol yet anyway."
"She was dead tired. Told me she might nap a few hours." Spike added.
"I think what you need to do is go back to that warehouse again. See if you can find any additional information. I don't think there is some 'psychic' monster out to get us, Xander, but there may be something. Something that works on a mental level. Affecting the mind first."
"Affecting the mind?" Spike suddenly looked interested again. "Like, making someone see what isn't there?"
"Hallucinate?" Buffy added in a barely audible voice, eyes getting rounder and more worried.
"Many things can cause that." GIles soothed. Buffy and Spike didn't look convinced. Giles gave Buffy a silent look that meant he had more to say, but couldn't. "Anya." He turned abruptly. "You've put in a full day. Let me lock up tonight."
"Well... it is Chinese and Kama Sutra night." Anya handed him the keys, which he took gingerly.
"Nailed it." Spike smirked. Xander blushed.
"We're going to see what we can find out from these." Willow hefted a few thick leather bound books. "If we can borrow them? Can we?"
"I suppose. Please be careful. They're hard to find, to say the least." Giles turned his attention meaningfully back to Buffy and Spike. "Since you're going home, as well Buffy, may I offer you a lift?"
"Sure. We'll wait 'til you close up." Buffy agreed and two by two, they scattered.
"You have to be more careful." Buffy clung to Spike's lapels.
"You were just as worried. You all but said it!"
"Both of you listen! This object may not be altering Joyce's mental perception, but an altered mental perception does perceive Spike's-" he bent his head and whispered, "soul."
"Something powerful is in Spike. And the Dagon repels whatever seeks it." He rubbed the bridge of his nose. "Great power is seeking great power. Whatever it is- it's older than language. Older than names. Be very, very careful from now on-"
"I was mega careful!" Buffy squeaked in protest.
"Be extremely careful. I don't know anything about 'what cannot be named'. I can't even look it up." He gave a wry smile.
"Do you think someone would know? Anyone?" Buffy rolled her hands anxiously together. "I mean, I'll go for the slay- but I kind of like to know what I'm after first."
"Give me a minute." Giles checked his watch. "Six thirty. Perfect. It'll be the wee hours over there."
"What are you-"
"Shh." Giles picked up the gallery phone and dialed.
"Over there? England?" Spike guessed.
"Even Watchers have night shifts sometimes." Giles waited for the ringing to give way to a voice.
It did. "Robson, speaking."
"You owe me six quid, or a favor." Giles answered smoothly.
"How are you, old boy?" Giles' face lifted slightly.
"Well, I'm short of cash at the moment, so what can I do for you?"
"I need you to run a search. Do a bit of digging. I can't find anything in any of my texts, and I know I'm not permitted to use the bounties of the Council, but-"
"But I am. What are you looking for?"
"Something called the Brotherhood of Guardians. An order of monks. Very small, very secret, is my best guess."
"I can't make any promises, but I'll do my best. When do you need to know by?"
"Oh... sometime last week." Giles sighed.
"That bad? Should we be alarmed?"
"Not yet. Not until you find out what these monks do- and find out just what they were the guardians of."
"And please. Keep it between us?"
"You owe me a tenner."
"You owe me six, that means I'll owe you four, next time you're in California."
"Ha! Next time you're in London, more like."
Giles smiled. At least someone was doing something, something he couldn't. "Thanks, Robson. Give me a ring if you find anything."
Quentin Travers stopped listening in. He wasn't normally there so late, but that night he was glad he was. International business being what it is, a 9:00 AM conference call in Hong Kong meant a very late night, or early morning, in London. And who would call, from an outside, non-Council approved number, at this hour?
"Wilson." Travers asked his undersecretary to come into his office.
"No, more pressing, I'm afraid. But it can't be. It's absurd."
"What is, Sir?"
"What? Oh, nothing." Travers hedged. "Wilson. Has anyone found any unusual prophecies of late? Ready any strange portents?"
"Not that I'm aware, Sir. I could check."
"Don't do that." Travers shook his head quickly. Discreet enquiries were best. "No, Wilson, what I need is for you to find a way for me to get in touch with the General of the Byzantium."
Wilson dropped the coffee tray halfway to the ground, before catching it with his narrow, knocking knees. "Sir, those men do not take kindly to being disturbed."
"Don't teach your grandmother her business, boy." Travers said crossly. "But you're right. Hold off on contact. But find out how I can, if I need to."
"Yes, Sir." The man prepared to leave.
"Wilson, one more thing." Travers knew something big must be going on, but he didn't want to get the Council officially involved, not if Rupert and his tame Slayer could handle it. "Keep an eye on how Robson is doing with his search. In this case, I want Rupert Giles to be given whatever assistance he needs, whatever information we have- but I want to know about it first."
"He'll know something soon, I'm sure." Giles said with more confidence than he felt.
"In the meantime." Buffy looked at Spike. "Dinner and slaying?"
"I do love this woman." Spike grinned broadly. "Maybe we missed somethin', somethin' around the alleys near it, in the upper parts of the warehouse."
"I wish they hadn't died." Buffy murmured sympathetically. "Not just for the slay-worthy reasons of getting information. But because-"
"They were innocents." Giles understood, even without feeling the intense sympathy Buffy had for Spike in this case. He cleared his throat. "Listen to me. Anything that goes unnamed is usually an object of deep worship or great fear- maybe both. Don't underestimate what we're dealing with, simply because the Dagon Sphere turned out to be a fairly benevolent object."
"We don't underestimate things." Buffy said firmly. And then, with her old high school flippancy, "Ooh, can we hit the mall after searching for glowy thingy clues?"
"I'm kidding! I'm kidding, Giles, look. Serious face." Buffy pulled on her chin, making her face seem longer and more serious.
Her eyes were so often haunted, tired these days. Spike made her smile and laugh- and be incorrigible. More so than before. "I don't know whether you're a bad influence on each other or not." Giles muttered with pretended exasperation as he marched toward the exit. "Do you actually need a ride?"
Spike and Buffy exchanged looks. "Nice night. Rain's holdin' off." Spike said to his other half.
"We'll be there soon." Buffy nodded to Giles as he locked the store.
"I'm making dinner. Full English fry up."
"Kidneys?" Spike's eyes lit up.
"Ooh, I hadn't thought of that." Giles sounded mildly excited.
Buffy sounded intensely nauseated. "Kidneys? Those aren't foods, those are organs!"
"Americans." Spike and Giles said as one.
Buffy tugged her swain away. "We'll be there soon-ish. Please stick to eggs and bacon."
Joyce woke up for the second time that day, yet confused. "Bacon? That's a breakfast smell. Did I sleep straight through?" She clutched around her side table, seeking her alarm clock.
"You're up." Giles' voice drifted through the open door of her room. "I'm making supper! Full English fry up. It's quick and easy and I haven't had time to prepare anything more fancy, I'm afraid."
"That's fine! I don't want anything heavier than toast!" Joyce sat up, and her stomach seemed to roll and lurch like the invisible waves she felt like she was riding.
"Oh, Darling, you've got to eat! What about scrambled eggs?" She was losing weight, paling each day. Giles resolutely shook his head, shook the thought from it.
"You sound like Spike. He tried to lure me into ordering pizza and watching soaps with him."
"A nice, tame idea, considering who made it." Giles chuckled. Then he realized that might not be the best reminder for an anxious woman, a nervous (with appropriate cause) mother. On the other hand, acting like Spike was a wonderful, chap, the soul of decency- key word soul... "Hrm. Eggs, my love?"
"I'll be down in a minute." Joyce called.
"Tell me about your day?" Giles cooked, she sat, watching him.
"I'd rather hear about yours. Is the gallery still standing?"
"Oh, just about." He teased. "Anya marshalled her troops nicely."
"I'm going in tomorrow after my appointment. I don't care what they say." Joyce made a premature decision.
"Are you sure?" Giles asked quickly. Too quickly perhaps.
"It is my gallery." Joyce glared.
"I know that, I merely wondered if you were up for it. I don't want to risk your health."
"But you'll let a blood sucking demon invade my living room all day, and that's not something that concerns you?" She knew that was a low blow, against Spike, and Giles, but anger and fatigue made her speak rashly.
"Spike is harmless to humans. He couldn't hurt you. He wouldn't." Giles didn't want to lie to her. But he didn't want to have this discussion now either, about what changes he could see in Spike, once he realized what to look for.
"Spike might not bite, but he's not harmless." Joyce's eyes suddenly narrowed. "I thought he couldn't hit humans."
"He- doesn't." Giles hastily began laying plates, four of them.
"That's good, but I thought he couldn't. He- Rupert, did you see him with Tara's father? Didn't he go after him?"
"Several of them did. I wanted to myself."
"So did I, but I wouldn't have suddenly bit his neck."
"Spike didn't." This is all about to go very, very badly...
Joyce rubbed her temples, one side achingly tender, far more than the other. "Rupert, I'm not sure I understand what you're saying. Are you saying you saw it, too? This isn't some trick of being literally brain damaged? Spike did go after Mr. Maclay, and can hurt humans. He couldn't before. That's what Buffy said."
Buffy said. He seized on it. "Buffy told you the truth. Spike had a chip put in his head, that curbs violent impulses against humans." All true. Because if he lied to her... His happy future vanished in a blink, visions or not. "It curbs it. It could physically disable him if he attempted to hurt someone, sending watts of electricity directly into his brain. It would kill a human." Joyce looked appalled. "I've never seen him hurt a human after the Initiative put a chip in him, not until Tara's father."
"So, why could he-"
"I believe that Spike would do what he had to. Human, demon- he wouldn't let someone hurt Buffy- or anyone she loves." Giles said, and as he spoke the words, he believed them.
She did too. And it was uncomfortable. "I know Buffy loves him. But I don't want her with someone who can turn into the Hulk and -"
He turned to her sharply, sliding fluidly into the chair across from her with a look of sudden intensity. "Joyce, listen to me. I know we don't like everything he is, but believe me, Spike isn't the only man who would undergo, or do, the unimaginable for the woman he loves. Don't say you don't want someone like that." Because you don't know what I'm capable of. You don't know what I'll do when I have to do it.
"You're different than he is."
"Of course I am. But we're not really so different in the way we love."
She was suddenly young again, and excited again, and there were thrills, and dangers- and odd security in something so passionate.
"Let him love her, let her love him. It is rare for a slayer to love anyone, rarer still to find someone perfectly able to give her what she needs. And- she doesn't even know. None of us can know, just what his true value is yet."
Heart racing, temple throbbing, and the pain oddly at bay. "I trust you, Rupert. If you say that it's a good thing-"
"It's a necessary thing. It's more than you know."
How had their hands slid across the table, how was he suddenly pulling her, or was she pulling him, until they met in the middle? Kissing, pawing, smothered in each other with heady sighing breaths.
"I know that I love you. More than you know."
"Something in common then." He whisked her up, carefully, but determinedly.
"Rupert!" She was in someone's arms, like a princess about to be carried from a tower. No one made her feel like that. No one. It wasn't fair it only happened when she was forty and faded.
"I've got you."
"But my-" Her hand went to her wig self-consciously.
"I get lost in you- not in what you look like. Your beauty is only a bonus." Words so comforting, said with nothing soothing in the tone. More like a simple heat.
Love had never been like this for her.
She wondered, as the stairs fell away, as the bedroom door shut behind them, if that was why she didn't understand Buffy, and what she was doing.
For a moment, she decided she didn't care.
They entered the house to the smell of burning bacon and blackened toast. "On fire, on fire, actual fire!" Buffy yelped and scrambled towards the kitchen where short, orange flames danced around a skillet.
"Smother it, don't put it in the sink!" Spike was right behind her, slamming a pot over top of the popping grease sparks.
"Oh my God! Where are they? What happened, what could-" Buffy broke off, coughing as she threw open a window to let the night air clear the hanging wisps of smoke.
Spike was alarmed as well, and he looked around frantically, reaching out with his senses- only to find them rapidly drawing back in.
"Ah. Slayer, dinner's ruined, let's get a burger." He turned off the stove and tried to pull her from the kitchen.
"What are you talking about? Dinner is ruined, but that doesn't matter! Where are-"
A sudden low, masculine chuckle, quite debauched actually, drifted down the stairs.
"You wouldn't just leave, no, not you, the big hero." Spike grumbled.
"Oh. Oh, ick." Buffy stood frozen in the middle of the kitchen.
Spike took her hand and tugged her out the back door. "C'mon, Luv. Buy you a very late breakfast at the diner, if that's what you want."
"I don't think I can eat now." Buffy whimpered.
"Don't take it so hard. Love's the best medicine." Spike pointed out carelessly, actually quite pleased that the librarian didn't neglect his duties, including that "in sickness and in health" bit.
Buffy rolled her eyes. "Burning down the house isn't."
"Think we get good guy points for savin' their bacon?"
"Har har, Spike."
"Your mum's a nice lady, I'm glad she has a nice bloke. End of it." Spike took her hand more firmly.
Buffy followed, a pout forming on her face as she tried every mental block she could think of regarding the situation going on upstairs. "What happened to you being half afraid of my mother?"
"Oh, still am." He wrapped his arm across her shoulders and bent his head, cool lips to warm ear. "But today she told me somethin' very important."
"Mmm? What's that?" His skin on hers made her forget pretty much everything but him.
"That I make you light up. We both glow, from the inside out."
She laid her head on his shoulder. "That's true."
"Everyone deserves that."
They walked forward in the deepening darkness, shadows lengthening as street lights came on, and minutes passed in silence.
"Burgers or breakfast?" Spike asked finally, cheek to her hair.
"Hmm. You know- I don't really care. As long as we're together."
"Always, Baby. Always."
A figure slid from the shadows of the park they were passing, unmoving, staring after them until they turned the corner.
"The slayer and the vampire? Always together? Now, isn't that strange."
To be continued...