I started writing this while on holiday in Newfoundland this summer. It's a bit grim. I have no idea why this came out instead of something more cheerful.
Smooches to flurblewig for betaing.
Title: All Set Down
Main Character: Giles
Setting: BtVS S5, during and after The Gift
Word count: 3,300
Warnings: Violence, character death
Disclaimer: Joss likes fanfic. He said so.
“You’re a killer.” Tara points at Giles. “This is all set down.”
There’s no time to wonder what she means. Glory has Dawn, and the moment of the ritual is approaching. Giles packs a last weapon into a bag. They’re ready to go. They let Tara leave first and follow quietly behind her.
In spite of her distracted state, she walks without hesitation and brings them to an area of disused warehouses. Rising high above them is a ramshackle tower, obviously hastily constructed using whatever materials were at hand. Dawn must be at the top of it--a cluster of Glory’s cronies is gathered around the base of the creaky structure, guarding the stairway that leads up.
The group splits up. Buffy and Willow head off to find Glory, while Spike fires a crossbow bolt into one of her minions. Giles and Anya wade into the fray, bearing sword and baseball bat respectively, and attempt to dispatch as many of the scaly little creatures as they can without seriously harming any of the mindless brainsuck victims. A flash of blue light tells Giles that Willow has performed her spell to restore Tara’s mind. Gasps and cries of outrage that testify to the damage Buffy is inflicting on Glory with the troll hammer soon follow. Minutes later, a thunderous crash distracts them all, and Giles turns to see that Xander, driving a crane, has knocked Glory through a brick wall with a wrecking ball. The goddess is still alive, however, and Buffy resumes her work with the hammer.
Their instant of inattention gives Glory’s allies the upper hand, and they force Giles, Spike, and Anya into retreat behind a pile of debris. Giles takes a moment to catch his breath, checks his watch, and feels a surge of hope. They’re nearly there-–if Buffy can keep Glory down for just a few minutes more, it will be too late for her to begin the ritual. They’re about to resume the fight when Spike cocks his head, listening to something only he can hear. His gaze swivels to the top of the tower and Giles’s follows. There’s a second figure on the platform with Dawn, but it’s too dark to tell whom it is. An invisible force suddenly parts the swarm of minions and crazies that has regrouped at the bottom of the tower, and Spike charges through the gap and up the stairs with inhuman speed.
Giles makes his way over to Buffy, taking out several more opponents as he goes, and finds her standing over an apologetic and bleeding Ben.
“Tell her it’s over. She missed her shot. She goes. She ever, ever comes near me and mine again...”
“We won’t. I swear.”
With a look of disgust, Buffy flings her weapon away and starts towards the tower. Giles feels a twinge of pity for the beaten man, but quickly stifles it. Ben is not the enemy, but he cannot be saved. He adopts an expression of concern and bends down towards him.
“Can you move?”
“Need a... a minute.” Ben’s voice is hoarse. “She could’ve killed me.”
“No, she couldn’t. Never.”
Giles pauses to retrieve his glasses from the pocket of his jacket, then speaks his next words with careful deliberation.
“She’s a hero, you see. She’s not like us.”
Ben looks confused. “Us?”
Without changing expression, Giles reaches down and clamps his hand over Ben’s nose and mouth, pinching them shut. Ben thrashes weakly under his grip. Giles suddenly remembers Tara’s words.
“You’re a killer...”
How did she know?
He tightens his hold, and it’s not long before Ben isn’t moving anymore.
Giles pulls his hand back and wipes it on a handkerchief. He feels for a pulse, and when he’s satisfied that there is none, pushes himself to his feet, shaking with relief. It’s over. They’ve done it. Dawn is safe, and Glory will never threaten anyone again.
Something falls to the ground behind him with a whomp. Giles turns to see Spike, bruised and bloodied, sprawled awkwardly on a heap of debris. Looking up, he can still see two figures on the platform; the second one must surely be Buffy. He steps towards the semi-conscious vampire to assess his injuries and silently thanks whatever powers are watching over them that their casualties are no greater than this.
Moments later, the fabric of space over their heads rips open.
The silence in his house is deafening. Giles leans against the banister, exhausted. They have won, but their victory is hollow. He makes his way upstairs and into the bathroom, and turns the shower on. He catches a glimpse of himself in the mirror and closes his eyes until he is sure that it is filmed with steam. His entire right side is coated in a thick layer of blood; it has saturated his clothes, and he can feel it crusting on his skin in the places where it has begun to dry. He raises his reddened hands before his face and gazes at them with a mixture of admiration and horror. Bile rises in his throat, and he retches into the sink.
After the spasm has passed, he wills himself into motion, discarding his bloodied clothing and stepping into the shower. He watches water course down his body, rivulets sluicing their way through the gore and gathering into crimson eddies around his feet before swirling down the drain. When he cannot bear the sight of her life’s blood streaming away any longer, he allows his head to sag against the tiles and his tears to flow unchecked until the water has washed him clean and turned cold.
Later, he takes his ruined clothes downstairs and burns them in the fireplace. Before darkness comes that evening, he nails a crucifix next to each of his doorways and twice chants the words of an uninvite spell.
Lightning flashes through the rent in the sky. One fork hits a building and sets it ablaze; another splits the pavement and cracks open a hole large enough to swallow a car. Glory’s minions shriek and scatter, while her victims stare mindlessly up at the spectacle above them. Thunder rolls, and the earth shakes in response. Willow and Tara crouch together near the warehouse, Willow dabbing at a nosebleed in the aftermath of her spells and Tara looking around in newly lucid confusion. Giles is still tending to Spike when he hears a rumbling crash and Xander’s panicked voice.
A pale arm protrudes from beneath a pile of bricks loosened by yet another lightning strike. Xander digs frantically down through the heap, gathers Anya in his arms, and half-carries, half-drags her unconscious form to safety just as the entire corner of the building collapses.
Giles rises and starts in their direction, but is sent reeling backwards when the body of a small, wizened man careens to the ground directly in front of him. His first reaction is concern, but he is brought up short by a snarl from the vampire beside him.
“Watch yourself, Rupert. That’s not a man-–that’s the bastard that cut Dawn.”
The tail protruding from the man’s coat confirms Spike’s statement. The figure lies supine and grimaces in pain, but his face splits into a grin as Giles approaches him.
“It doesn’t matter what you do to me now,” he rasps. “The portal is open and Glorificus will resume her reign!”
Giles leans over him and makes sure he hears his words-–“Glorificus is dead.”-–before reaching down and snapping his neck.
Slayers come with short expiration dates. That was how she put it. He never cared to think about that very much, but, like Buffy, he’s always known it was true.
He’s been sitting almost motionless for hours, alone and silent. A small lamp is the room’s only source of illumination, and it casts a pool of weak light over the book spread open upon the table in front of him. A half-empty bottle of scotch rests next to it. He stares unseeingly into the gloom, occasionally sipping from a heavy crystal glass. Fatigue has dulled his senses and alcohol his ache, and for both these things he is supremely grateful.
He searches for those which always came to him so easily before, but now elude him: words. This is his final duty as a Watcher: to document the events that he’s witnessed; to record the last moments of his Slayer's life; to pay testimony to the sacrifice that saved the world.
It’s a task he’s been dreading for five years.
Nothing he can articulate will ever do her justice. He can’t think of anything he wants to say more than that he’s sorry. Sorry for Buffy, sorry for Dawn, sorry for the events that led them inexorably to this unspeakable conclusion, sorry that it is he who must record it. Tears well in his eyes again and he shakes his head, angrily blinking them away. Self-pity does no one any honour and it won’t bring back the dead.
He winces as the fingers of his left hand begin to cramp. He’s been holding the pen so tightly and for so long that the tips are white and bloodless. He drops it and flexes his fingers for a few seconds, then picks it up again. Taking a deep breath, he leans forward, and finally begins to write.
The portal over their heads widens and creatures from other dimensions begin to stream into their reality. A wind rises and whips around him as a leathery bat-winged monstrosity swoops down, snatches up one of Glory’s scaly minions in its talons, and flies away, a streamer of blood trailing in its wake. Nearby, Xander wrestles himself from the grasp of a many-tentacled demon twice his size. Giles slashes out with his sword and penetrates the creature’s hide; an inky fluid spills out and the three of them crash to the ground with a wet-sounding squelch. Willow grasps Tara’s hand and looses a ball of fire into a horror with glistening alabaster skin, far too many legs, and rows of razor teeth, but it is too little and too late-–it has torn the torso of one of the mindless victims in half before the flames make contact and send it shrieking away into the dark.
Giles pulls himself free from the tangled mass of man and monster just as a third body plummets to the ground from above, and a hysterical voice at the back of his brain wonders, “How many more?” He steps towards it, and as he realises who it is, his mind goes blank with shock.
She’s lying in a twisted heap on a pile of rubble left over from the construction of the tower, her arms and legs splayed at impossible angles. It’s immediately clear that her neck and back are broken in several places. Blood seeps from gashes and scorch marks on her face and limbs, and pools on the ground beneath her. Giles doesn’t need to search for a pulse to know that she is gone.
His Slayer is dead.
A howl rings out over the clamour of the battle. Spike has collapsed and is rocking and moaning with grief. He drags himself to her side and grips her hand in his own.
“Please, no, don’t go, Buffy. Open your eyes, pet. Please, God, no, don’t take her, not yet. Come back, luv, come back.”
Giles’s own knees threaten to buckle, but there’s no time for sorrow-–lightning flashes again and the building across the street is set ablaze. A hulking creature with horns and cloven feet emerges from the portal and takes down another of Glory’s hapless victims with a single swipe of its clawed hand. The fight is not finished; they must go on if their world is not to be destroyed.
A shrill wail from above catches his attention, and Giles looks up to see Dawn kneeling at the edge of the platform and staring down at her sister’s body. As he watches, the portal between them pulses, widens, and disgorges yet another pack of demons. He has a moment of clarity and suddenly understands: Dawn’s blood opened the portal, and Buffy was trying to close it with her own in order to spare her sister’s life. Her heroic act fills him with pride even as its futility devastates him.
He shuts his eyes and draws a breath to steel himself, then begins the run up the tower.
The funeral is held outdoors, late in the afternoon. The mourners cluster around the pair of caskets, listening to the murmurs of the cleric but deriving little comfort from his words. Willow weeps in Tara’s arms, while Xander leans heavily on Anya’s wheelchair, his face a mask of stoicism. Giles lingers behind them all, unacknowledged and unwelcome to participate in their grief. He has played no part in the arrangements; none of them has spoken to him since the night at the tower.
As the sun swings towards the horizon, two figures materialise silently in the shadows of the nearby trees. The larger stands immobile, his head bowed, while the other moves in constant restless agitation. At a motion from the cleric, there is a faint whine of machinery, and one of the caskets begins its slow descent into the ground. Its brass fixtures glint in the sunlight. Moments later, the second casket begins its final journey. Giles’s throat tightens as the coffins and their inhabitants disappear from view. With no one left to watch, and before the vampires are released from their shady confines, he turns away and staggers towards home. His chest heaving and his anguish nearly blinding him, he stumbles across the threshold, gasping for air that cannot fill the void within, and crumples to the floor.
Winds buffet him at the top of the ladder, and he grabs a girder to steady himself. Lightning crackles through the air, and thunder competes with the howls of the demons pouring into their sky. Dawn is on her knees at the edge of the platform extending out from the creaking, swaying tower, calling to Buffy. As he steps towards her, his shoe sends a bloodied knife skittering across the grating. At the noise, she whirls to face him, her eyes wide and panic-stricken and her face swollen with tears. There are two gashes in her dress, two incisions in her abdomen that have wept blood down her legs and beyond, and which continue to feed the portal.
Dawn scrambles to her feet and runs to him, gripping him fiercely around the waist and sobbing into his chest. He enfolds her in his arms and presses his face against her hair, murmuring meaningless sounds of comfort, though there truly is none to give.
“Sh-she jumped,” Dawn gulps between moans, “She j-jumped to s-save me. She said I should live. Did she... Is she...?”
He hesitates, but only for an instant. There is no way to protect her.
“Yes, Dawn, she’s dead.”
She flinches at his words, and he can feel her nails into the flesh of his back. Her shuddering weight grows in his arms as she sags towards him.
“She said I had to let her g-go. She s-said until the blood s-stopped, it w-wouldn’t... it wouldn’t...”
Suddenly, she stills, and for a moment, he thinks she’s stopped breathing.
“Oh God,” she whispers in a wavering voice, “Oh God.” She pushes away from him and takes in the streaks of lightning emanating from the still-growing portal, the flares of fire burning amongst the ruined buildings, and the battles going on below against the beasts invading their world.
“It didn’t work.” She turns back to him and her eyes lock on his, huge and filled with horror. “It didn’t work.”
“No, it didn’t work.”
His gaze flicks down to the knife lying on the platform. There is a long moment of silence between them, and he watches as comprehension spreads across her features. He wonders what she sees as she looks at him. He knows that he will carry the sight of her-–of the anguish, fear, and despair in her eyes being replaced by resignation, determination, and-–oddly-–trust-–with him, always, until merciful death relieves him of the burden of having to see anything at all.
It is the trust that undoes him. Of all her possible reactions, he wasn’t expecting this. He wants to fall to his knees in supplication, to cry out for her judgement, to beg her condemnation and plead for her forgiveness, but she will allow him none of these things.
The trembling stops. She straightens, lifts her chin, squares her shoulders, and rivets him in place with her stare. There are no more tears, and there is no waver in her voice.
Her command is soft, but it is a command nonetheless. Her face is set with resolve and courage sparks in her eyes. By look alone, she exacts a wordless promise from him before inclining her head slightly forward and to the right.
Even more quietly now, but with no less determination: “Do it.”
He is at once helpless before her and beholden to her. Before he can think about his actions, he stoops, grasps the handle of the knife, rises, and brings his hand down over her neck in a single, sweeping motion. The spray of her blood arches over them, pulsing in time with her heartbeat. Her lips part in shock, but she makes no sound. A second arc, smaller than the first, drenches them both. He drops the knife and catches her in his arms, and together they sink to the scaffolding. Her slight body lies across his lap and he watches her life pump out of her. Her last action is to search out his eyes with her own, and in them he sees acceptance and gratitude. A third pulse, smaller still, and a fourth, trickling away to nothing, and she too is gone.
There is little left for him to do now. The sounds of his footsteps reverberate from the bare walls as he checks each of the rooms one last time to make certain he hasn’t missed anything. The house has become as hollow as he feels, a shell of a place that, for a while, at least, felt like home. Echoes of voices and laughter from the past chase him as he makes his final rounds, and images of happier times seem to hover at the edge of his field of vision. There’s the corner where his Christmas tree stood every December. Here’s where he helped Dawn with her math homework. This is where they all sat for Thanksgiving dinner. He closes his eyes to shut them out and forces himself to empty his mind, and his heart, and drive the ghosts away. One day, he knows, he will reach for these memories, but for now he cannot face them.
He threads his way through the piles of boxes to the front window and stands staring out into the street. In a little while, movers will arrive and load his belongings into their truck. Soon after that, he will take in his last glimpses of Sunnydale on his way to the airport. There will be no well-wishers meeting him there, no fond farewells from the children he grew to love and failed to protect. They can no more bear to see him than he can to look at himself.
Tomorrow afternoon, he will deliver his diaries to the Council and turn in his resignation. The battle against the forces of evil is unceasing and will continue, but it will do so without him.
This Watcher has seen too much.
A/N: Some of the dialogue, including Tara’s opening line, was lifted from The Gift, which was written by Joss Whedon.