Turned out, it was a lovely afternoon; and it also turned out that the house where Spike woke up had a courtyard with a tiny little garden, complete with a miniature fountain and little stone benches, decorative trees, all that rot. Wisteria trailing overhead, just coming into bloom. So now Giles and Spike were sitting in the courtyard – together, of their own free will – and Giles was working up the courage to start asking his questions or relay the information from his texts, or whatever it was.
Spike had insisted on coming outdoors, partly to feed that craving he seemed to have developed for sunlight, and partly, like Aurelius, just to keep Giles off-balance a bit. Berk was less likely to relapse, go back to treating him like worthless vampire trash, if he was constantly getting the reminder shoved in his face that Spike wasn't exactly a vampire anymore. Seemed to be working, too: He kept looking over at Spike and opening his mouth to talk, except then he'd start staring at Spike's hands gleaming in the sun and he'd forget whatever he'd been about to say. It was amusing, and no mistake.
It was all very cozy, them sittin' on a pair of stone benches, with the birds singing and the wind in the trees and a pot of tea on a tray between them, and the setting was quaint and charming and domestic – and it was possibly doing just as much to unbalance Spike as it was Giles. Not that he was about to let on; place didn't exactly scream bloodthirsty demonic predator, was all.
Still. Sun felt nice, and they hadn't tried to kill each other yet, at any rate. He didn't expect that last part to go on for very long, though.
"Yes. Well. You're in Vienna, first of all," Giles said finally. "In case you, er, hadn't already been aware, or planning to come this way. You've been here just about four days now, and so far as I know you've been unconscious ever since you arrived."
Vienna. Hadn't been expecting that.
"You can imagine our surprise," Giles went on, "when we discovered that you were, er – that is to say, that you hadn't…"
"Quite," said Giles. "After the destruction of Sunnydale – hm. Well, I, I suppose I should ask, how long have you been back? Were you aware of what happened in Sunnydale as a result of the battle there?"
"Yeah, I know what happened there," said Spike. "Haven't been to see it in person, but I heard. Great bloody crater, is the way I heard it."
"You heard correctly," Giles replied. "We were certain that you'd been destroyed in that battle; Buffy left while you were still standing in the cavern, but her report seemed quite conclusive."
"It was," said Spike. "'Cept you're makin' it sound like you didn't know I came back." He gave Giles a look, unamused. "Quit fishin' for information you already have, Watcher."
Giles sat a bit straighter, affronted. "So far as I was aware, you were dust, Spike, until you reappeared earlier this week – in a rather spectacular fashion, I might add – in the middle of a, a rather quaint and intimate yet still apparently rather crowded Viennese coffeehouse, in the middle of the afternoon. Though perhaps I should be unsurprised that you chose such a dramatic reentry into the world from… wherever you were."
Spike raised his eyebrows. "Huh. So Andrew kept his mouth shut after all," he mused. "Wasn't expectin' that. Little twink doesn't know how not to gossip, or brag when he knows something the rest of you don't."
"A-Andrew? We heard from him that Angel was in Rome; he never said anything about seeing you."
"He didn't, not in Rome anyway. I had other business there. No, Andrew saw me during that business with your mad Slayer. Dana." He suppressed a shudder at those memories. "Near got the best of me, she did." Spike thought about asking after her, see how she was recovering, but figured it'd just drag them off the topic.
"You'd returned that long ago?" The Watcher gaped at him, then tried to cover it by reaching for the teapot on its little tray. "Wait – you'd returned, and you were with Angel, for all this time?"
"And you didn't slaughter one another?" Giles muttered under his breath, but Spike caught it and grinned.
"Not for lack of tryin'," he replied. "But yeah. That amulet he gave Buffy; the one I wore. It came from Wolfram and Hart, and somehow – dunno how – it wound up back there, about three weeks later. With me in it. Long story," he said quickly, cutting Giles off before he could ask, "and not exactly relevant. You said Vienna."
"Thought you'd've gone back to Merry Old," mused Spike, "once the business with the First was dealt with."
"I have, actually," said Giles. "This isn't my home. I gather you were under the impression that it was."
"So whose is it, then? And how'd I get here?"
Giles cleared his throat and fidgeted with his cup of tea, all the brandy having met its end on the guestroom floor. "An… acquaintance, I suppose… a quite wealthy acquaintance, in fact, was present when you first appeared. This house belongs to him. I'm given to understand that he has several such places, guest homes for visiting friends or business associates. You were brought here to recover after, er… I'm given to understand that you appeared conscious, but passed out shortly thereafter?"
"S'right." The Immortal. Had to be. Who else would just bring him to their house instead of, say, a hospital like normal people would do? Or a jail cell; some lunatic shows up at a coffee shop out of nowhere, like he did, you'd call the police first, yeah? It'd take someone with a bit of pull to shrug off the usual authorities and just bring him to their house. And not even their house, but a guest residence that he just happened to have lying around as a spare for when he'd need it.
You are welcome in my homes, William, the Immortal had said. Had to be him.
"As for how you arrived," Giles went on, "either at the coffeehouse specifically or Vienna generally, well, that's rather what we were hoping to find out ourselves. Witnesses claim you appeared out of thin air," he cleared his throat, "entirely naked, before collapsing at the foot of one of the tables. However, other witnesses also insist you were fully clothed by the time assistance arrived."
"And what d'you claim yourself?"
"I wasn't there," said Giles simply. "I was notified only after you were brought to safety, here. I brought a few things with me, texts that might be relevant, that sort of thing, and flew down, two days ago now. I've been conducting what research I could, with my limited resources, and taking my turn waiting for you to wake up."
"Notified," said Spike. "By who?" There'd been a glimpse, he was almost sure of it, his memory was a bit hazy but he could have sworn he'd seen a flash of blonde hair before he'd finally succumbed to exhaustion.
And he was right in his guess, judging by Giles's reaction. "Well, I, I-I hardly think that's relevant," he spluttered, reaching for his glasses to polish. Spike bit back a grin. Just like old times. "It-it was, er, no one in particular, simply, er –"
"Simply Buffy?" He glanced sidelong at Giles, caught his tongue between his teeth.
Giles froze. The expression on his face told Spike that he was caught and he knew it. But after a moment he seemed to recover some of his spine, or maybe just to recall that despite how bloody fascinatin' it all was, he still didn't like Spike very much.
"I might have guessed you'd still be obsessed with her," he said, and oh, there was the cold bastard Spike had gotten to know in Sunnydale. "Even after all this time."
Spike said nothing, just raised an eyebrow and waited.
"Buffy's moved on," said the Watcher, his expression hard and unyielding. "She's put Sunnydale behind her, and she doesn't need you turning up in her life out of the blue to, to, upend what peace she's managed to find since then."
Spike had guessed right about that, too – for all his intellectual curiosity, all this civility was just a thin veneer covering Giles's lingering sense of manipulative self-righteousness. Likely he didn't really care what had happened to Spike, himself, only that it had happened and was interesting for its own sake. He likely only cared that Spike was involved insofar as he might be able to convince Spike to submit to a few experiments or some such rubbish. Aurelius had wanted to shake up the Watcher's worldview with those texts, but it didn't look like the tactic had worked just yet.
Pity for Giles that Spike was in no mood to put up with that attitude, nor was he any longer in a position in which he had to. His smile widened, though it got no friendlier, and his eyebrow went up.
"And you're the expert on what she needs, are you?" he asked. "Buffy's back to confidin' in you, then? Sharin' her secrets, tellin' you what's in her heart and on her mind? How much peace she's managed to find? 'Cause y'see, Rupes, I don't think she is. Me, I got the impression the two of you weren't all that cozy after Sunnydale. You'll remember – that time you stabbed her in the back, goin' over her head to try and have me killed? Or maybe that other time you stabbed her in the back, kickin' her out of her own bloody home?"
Spike leaned in, smile vanishing. "You were in England till two days ago, while Buffy was here, 'movin' on' and all that, without you. And you just can't stand the fact that she outgrew you – hell, she outgrew you ages ago, Watcher, you just can't stand that she's finally realized it. So now you're tryin' everything you can to convince me – and you've shit for a poker face, by the way – that she's not around. Doin' your best not to even mention her name in conversation. Keepin' us apart on your say-so."
Giles's face had gone red and his fist was clenched in his lap. Spike leaned back, kicked his legs out to cross at the ankles, and tipped his face to the sun. "Petty little old man," he said softly, "using petty little tactics to try and control a girl who won't be your bloody plaything anymore. Because what you're really doing, clawing at her like you are, is tryin' to keep hold of Buffy any way you can; because you know in your bones that, once she's cut you out of her life completely, your own life won't mean a damn thing to anybody that's not interested in your books and your sodding research." He tipped his head lazily back in Giles's direction, cracked one eye open. That was better; wanker had gone from red to white. "That brandy, earlier," he said. "Was it really for me? Or is that just the only way you can get any sleep at night?"
Giles lunged forward to grab at Spike's shirt collar. Got right in his face, he did, positively enraged to the point where Spike could practically smell the fight on him. "Now you listen to me, you arrogant –"
Spike barely even moved. Just flung one wrist upward to smack into Giles's forearm and knock his grip loose – good to see he still had his superhuman strength – then swing that same hand palm-outward to shove Giles in the chest, hard enough to make him stumble back and sit down hard on his little stone bench. Then, his mouth twisted in something far too cruel to be called a smile, Spike reached over to the tray sitting between them, picked up his dainty little teacup, and knocked the drink back like a double shot of scotch. All that with the same hand, while the rest of him just sat inhumanly still on the bench. Didn't even bother shifting his face.
"Listen yourself, Rupes," he said, perfectly calm. "You're her Watcher – if and when she'll have you. You're not her father and you're not her bloody gatekeeper. If she bothered callin' you down here at all, it's 'cause she has a job for you to do and she expects you to do it. So you can take your pompous Watchers' Council attitude, and shove it right up your –"
"Oh my God."
Spike's breath caught in his chest. Buffy.
This chapter should be subtitled, "In Which The Story Attempts to Get Away From the Author, and the Author Does Not Regain Control in Time." Not sure that this was where I wanted things to go, but I've worked the chapter over five or six times and this was as good as it got without scrapping everything again and starting over. I swear, I'm trying to wrap things up so I can call this fic "complete" and move on!