Thank you to Spikeslovebite for the quick beta job!!!
A scant eight hours later, the group re-convened at the mansion on Crawford Street. Giles was relieved to note the good health in which Joyce arrived, while shooting Xander warning looks regarding the thoughtless, snide remarks about housing a demon. Quite frankly, it was wearing on him, but he knew Xander was not about to let it rest.
When Spike and Buffy arrived moments later, the mood was decidedly tense. The sewer tunnels had leant safe passage from the strong rays of the sun, yet Buffy couldn't help but express a few choice comments about the stench. The warm heat of the sun was something almost as foreign to her as it was to Spike, and Buffy found herself longing for the cold, crisp New England weather. The temperate sunny winter of Sunnydale just seemed... wrong somehow.
Slightly on the smoldering side but no worse for wear, Spike dove through the wide double doors leading into the large front room of the mansion. He offered Joyce and Willow a smile in greeting and tipped his head in acknowledgment to Giles, but steadfastly ignored Xander.
Not that Buffy blamed him, of course. The baleful, resentful looks that Xander was shooting his way set her teeth on edge. She could see the hurt just rippling off of him; the knowledge that she had embraced an evil vampire while keeping them at arms length had caused a myriad of hurt feelings and bitterness. However, Buffy did not feel inclined to remedy that situation any time soon. Change had occurred in the year she had been gone, and at the very least, her priorities and loyalties had gone through a metamorphosis. Buffy realized that there had been no maturation as far as her Sunnydale friends went, and a pang of sadness went through her at this realization. She had grown up -they hadn't.
A familiar figure emerged through one of the side doors, and Buffy found her lips curling up in an instinctive smile. There was little about him that seemed changed and for once, that was a good thing, finding herself buoyed by the utter normalcy. Well, if blue hair could be considered normal. "Hey Oz. Long time with the no see-age."
"Buffy." Oz nodded his head in greeting. "Welcome."
Buffy's smile widened at his words. His greeting spoke volumes. Here was one person who hadn't just assumed she was 'back home.'
"So how is, er... Angel?" Giles asked.
Oz shrugged his shoulders, his face showing a hint of compassion. "Not eating, not talking. The same."
"Dear lord," Giles mumbled, shaking his head in consternation. The condition they were likely to find the vampire sparked images of unspeakable horror. He had not been faring well upon his departure, and Giles knew what lay behind the door was only bound to be worse.
Spike shot his head up at Oz's statement, his eyes hardening with realization. "He hasn't been feeding?"
"No. We have thus far been unable to entice him to feed," Giles revealed. "Either animal blood or human blood. It fails to provoke a reaction aside from a slight increase in growling and agitation."
"Yeah. Keep hoping he'll just one day go 'poof', but sadly..." Xander let his sentence trail off, remembering the company he was now in. At the low growl that was directed his way, Xander gripped the stake he held securely in his hand with fierce determination.
"Xander, what are you doing with that stake?" Buffy's voice was mild and even; thus ten times more lethal than if she had shrieked at him at the top of her lungs.
Xander brought himself up defiantly. "Last time I looked, I was in the company of vampires. Plural. Not really seeing the need to explain myself here."
"Xander!" Willow hissed, shooting nervous looks in Spike's direction.
"Xander, do shut up," Giles declared, his voice clearly heralding the irritation felt around the room. "Spike, is there some significance to his lack of hunger?"
Spike snorted, barely keeping a hold of the mixed- yet torrential- feelings that had overwhelmed him the second he had entered the mansion. Memories had their own way of sneaking through even the staunchest of intent, digging and clawing until they threatened to devour every last reserve. His hold on Buffy tightened, and he could tell by the tenseness of her normally pliant muscles that the memories were not being kind to her either. He ignored the disgusted look on the boy's face when Buffy melded herself into his embrace, and the urge to kill became practically overwhelming.
"Yeah, it's significant," Spike finally got out.
"Would you mind elaborating?" Giles asked, peering at him with curiosity.
"Thought it'd be obvious to you, being a Watcher and all."
A flicker of irritation passed across Giles's face before being quickly tamped down. "An explanation would be appreciated, Spike."
"Please! He's just blowing smoke out of his ass. He doesn't know a thing," Xander complained loudly, his words sounding whiney and ridiculous even to his ears. His brain and mouth seemed to be unattached, like two separate parts of his body. Sometimes even he was surprised at what was spewed from his lips.
A clenched jaw and corded neck muscles were the only outward signs that Spike heard the complaints across the room.
"Xander, one more unnecessary remark such as that, and you can kindly take yourself home." There was a hint of Ripper in the glare that was sent in the teen's direction.
Xander slouched down, properly put in his place. His face held a sullen, mulish look that even Willow found irritating. She had to give Spike credit for not going all 'grrr' on Xander because she had to fight the urge to slap her friend.
"Spike?" Giles prompted once more, eager to hear the vampire's assessment over the lack of feeding. "The significance, if you will?"
"The significance is that it kind of clues you in there that it's Angel behind the wheel."
Giles's eyes widened at this revelation. "How so?"
Spike shook his head at the Watcher's ignorance. "Really, Rupert. You Council members have got to get your asses out of the books and learn a few things. Tell me... has he been violent or pretty much whipped puppy dog?"
"Er... he has been fairly easy to manage."
"Right. Soul having."
"How does that make it clear to you?"
Spike rolled his eyes. "The demon is basically a wild animal, Rupert. Its sole purpose for existing is for death and destruction. It's the man that gives it the mannerisms of a human, but it's a soul that gives back the ability to decide between right and wrong. If it was Angelus that was sent back in his most primal state, there is one thing you can be bloody well sure of. Either the lot of you would be dead or he'd be blowing in the wind. No maybe about it. It's the soul that's been refusing to eat, not the demon."
"Well, that makes more sense than anything I've been able to hypothesize," Giles announced, his eyebrows pinching together in concentration.
Spike watched the wheels spinning in the Watcher's brain while trying to suss out his own emotions. After the initial anger had dissipated, the next reaction to hearing the news of his grandsire's apparent resurrection was fear; mind-numbing panic that everything good that had happened during the past year would be swept away with one mighty crook of the Poof's finger. Then he had summoned up the courage to look in Buffy's eyes and what he found there had humbled him. He saw her love, her passion, her utter devotion to him. Him. Spike. William the Bloody. Not Angel. Buffy would never be for Angel again. She was his.
He took the opportunity to look once more into her eyes, and felt a small measure of relief when he saw no change in her response to him. Buffy's green eyes still glittered brightly with compassion and love, and she gave him a small smile that spoke volumes. Yes, he could do this. Whatever happened with Angel, Spike knew he would not have to deal with competing for Buffy's attention. Buffy loved him, and the total abandonment with which she continued to show him her love never ceased to amaze him. Not for the first time, Spike thanked whatever divine intervention that was responsible for drawing them together.
Spike could feel the presence of family close by and was suddenly compelled to be reunited with the only other member of their family that remained, now that Drusilla, Darla and the Master were no longer walking the earth. It had only occurred to him once that he was the last of his line; Head of the legendary Line of Aurelius. Oddly enough, it hadn't even rated a second consideration. That wasn't who he was anymore; or more telling, who he wanted to be.
"Where is he?" Spike asked, more out of courtesy than anything-more than capable of sniffing out Angel.
"He's chained up in the master bedroom," Giles supplied.
"Chained?" Buffy asked. "I thought you said he was easy going."
They all ignored Xander's snort. "I said easily managed, Buffy. However, as I stated at your house, he has not changed out of his vampiric face since we found him. We felt it was the safest thing for all of us if we kept him contained."
Without further clarification, Giles led them towards the door that Oz had emerged from. Spike and Buffy drew up the rear, the feeling of trepidation growing with each passing step. The air seemed to thicken with desolation the closer they got, and as the door was opened, the smell of dank decay swept out to greet them.
"I know this smell...." Buffy whispered, trying to lighten the mood. She knew Spike well enough to know that he was seriously disturbed. "It smells like our house."
Spike's answering snort assured her that her goal had been somewhat obtained. But what they saw before them quickly wiped away all hint of humor.
It didn't even look like Angel. That was the one thought that gripped them both, each struggling with their remnant feelings for the vampire. This... thing resembled nothing even close to the tall, self-assured specimen of their memories.
He was chained to the far wall; thick, heavy links attached to wide manacles clamped on his wrists that ensured his continued captivity. But from what Buffy and Spike could see, this thing posed no threat.
"How long has he been here?" Buffy asked, her voice thick with horror.
"I told you, Buffy. A month," Giles supplied, now having visual confirmation that the vampire's condition had declined since he last saw him.
There was no sign at all that Angel was aware of their arrival. He sat huddled on the tattered cot that was the only piece of furniture within his range. Even with all of his limbs drawn in and his head down, Buffy could see that Angel was in a state far past emaciation. What she could see of the bowed face showed a severe degree of gauntness; the supernatural ridges that lined his forehead jutting out in obscene contrast to the hollow cheeks, his fangs bared against bloodied, cracked lips. There were cartons of congealed animal blood scattered about the floor, seemingly untouched.
Buffy had thought Spike's self-imposed starvation during their drive across the United States had educated her regarding the physiological effects of a vampire not drinking blood.
But obviously there were far greater effects to be experienced in response to long term denial.
There was little flesh covering the boney frame on the bed; a far cry from the robust vampire she had sent to hell. What flesh was in evidence had a sickeningly petrified appearance, grey in pallor. Images of mummies flashed through Buffy's head, as she searched for any sign that this was Angel.
Instead of the usual carefully styled wall of hair, his locks sported a month of neglect; matted and dirty, hanging over his shoulders. Or it could have been a year of neglect, Buffy realized, noting the changed length.
He looked dead. As in, REALLY dead. Buffy nearly gagged at the stench of decay and the smell of unwashed vampire. He could just as easily been a corpse; intricately displayed on the cot... except for the low growls and grunts that rumbled from his sunken, boney chest.
"How do you know it's him?" Buffy whispered to Giles.
"His er, tattoo."
Buffy nodded, tears springing to her eyes. Spike squeezed her hand and she looked to him for support, seeing the compassion and worry mirrored back at her.
"We have to fix him," she murmured, eyes beseeching.
Buffy gave a slight sigh of relief at the curt nod that Spike offered her in response.
He may not like his grandsire, but he knew what needed to be done. Like the Watcher had said, there was something whispering in the back of his mind that to allow the death of the poof would be very bad indeed. After living with Drusilla for a century, he knew that sometimes those little voices had something important to say.
Then the creature on the cot lifted his head, dead, expressionless eyes turned in their direction. A small flicker of awareness shone for just a second before being extinguished, and the creature growled loudly.
Spike growled back.
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