Sitting opposite, Spike slumped over his chains, head lolling onto his chest in unconsciousness. Giles watched, waiting for him to wake. Above them the light flickered.
It had been flickering ever since he’d turned it on, as he’d dragged Spike down the stairs and as he’d left him to find some dining chairs. It kept them in darkness one moment, then in another picked out every line of Spike’s frown, carving his face with raw fluorescence. On and off.
It seemed a little unfair, a little pointed, but then there wasn’t much else to pick out in his old basement. Apart from an abandoned wine-rack (he hadn’t needed it in Westbury – that house had a proper cellar), they were the only things in the room.
Of course, that was also discounting all the dust, which clouded the floor and was thick enough that Giles could almost feel it clawing at the chair legs.
Giles shifted and then reached his right hand into his coat pocket. Fine, but sharp sand met his fingers and he sifted it one, two, three times as it calmed him. He wondered yet again whether this counted as torture, then immediately wondered, yet again, whether he cared. He still wasn’t sure.
The watch on his left wrist told him twenty minutes had passed. Giles sighed, trying to work out how much longer he would have to wait. He hadn’t hit him that hard.
Spike was still frowning. The light above them flickered.
When Spike woke, he woke quickly, though his voice was at first thicker than usual. “Always thought you’d be into chains.”
“Oh, do be quiet,” Giles said wearily, out of habit. He had the slightly disconcerting feeling that he wasn’t in the mood for this anymore, having just got comfortable on his chair. But he still fed the sand through his fingers.
“Would’ve thought that would cause a spot of trouble with what you’ve got in mind.”
“And what might that be, in your opinion?”
“Well, let’s see.” He glanced at his chained torso, before smirking, as though he knew something Giles didn’t. “I’m tied to a chair in…” Inhale. “Your house. It’s funny how the years don’t fade the stench of that god-awful incense you used to burn, innit?”
Godwin’s Shield. Giles had forgotten about that, had forgotten about the paranoid old mage who’d used to make it, who’d died two and a half years ago. Odd that Spike should still remember.
Spike continued, “Course, ’less Red’s about to run in and suggest we give the First a cabbage patch, I reckon we’re free from the delights of memory lane. Bit of torture, is it? Or the other?” He looked down again, wiggling his fingers for a few seconds. “Always knew you fancied me.”
Giles ignored his ridiculous grin. “Believe it or not, Spike, I have no desire to harm you.” The sand was growing warm in his hand and he forced himself to stop playing with it. “This is merely an interview.”
“Right.” Spike half-laughed, still acting as though there were something Giles didn’t know. “And the Houdini getup’s in aid of what, exactly?”
Giles sighed. “I thought you might object to this.” At last he pulled a handful of the sand from his pocket, opening his fist and letting the gold reveal itself.
There was a sound of protest, but Giles ignored it, focussing his mind and clarifying his intent. Then he blew, covering Spike in a thousand shimmering motes. He muttered the incantation, simple as it was, “uera dicamus.”
Spike spluttered, eyes wide. “What the bloody hell have you done to me?”
And so it began. Giles could feel the first tingles of sensation, pushing the words softly up the back of his throat. It was almost like being drunk, like goading yourself to say what you’d usually dismiss. He had known that he would be a part of the spell, bound to the same compact as Spike, but he hadn’t known what it would actually be like.
It was so easy to reply, “It’s a truth spell, a powerful one. Lying will be impossible and any attempt at silence or half-truths will cause pain.” The rush died back and Giles breathed, feeling oddly clean.
Half-truths were, of course, subjective to the question. He seemed to have got away without mentioning that, which was somewhat of a relief. This was never going to work if Spike knew he just had to wait until Giles couldn’t stand the pain.
He shook his head and started simply, “Do you understand?”
Spike glared mulishly for a few moments, and the tingles came again. There was no urge to speak this time, but Giles was still at their mercy. He waited, anticipating what was to come.
It grew like a migraine behind his eyes, building slowly but quickly digging deeper. A minute, perhaps, and he was reliving the worst hangover he’d ever had. Giles concentrated on his breathing, trying to keep his heart rate down, never taking his eyes off Spike’s.
A few seconds more and Spike rolled his eyes, affected a bored expression and said, “Yes.”
If Giles hadn’t known that it had hurt, he might have felt undermined. As it was he simply appreciated the pain’s recession, even as a phantom of it still remained.
“And for the record, this still counts as torture.”
Giles held back a sigh. “Yes.” He really couldn’t force himself to care. “What is your name?”
The phantom found shape almost immediately, though Spike acted as though it were nothing. From what Giles could gauge, however, Spike seemed to answer more quickly.
“Spike,” he said shortly, with a jut of his chin. He seemed to be realising the futility of not answering, and for a moment Giles allowed himself to believe that the whole affair could actually go quite well.
Still wary, Giles relaxed slightly, and decided to let the conversation lead them for a while. Just until Spike settled into it. “Interesting,” he said. “You view ‘Spike’ as your real name, even though you chose it yourself?”
Spike, rather reassuringly, seemed to be playing the game. “Course I bloody do. Means more to me than any other name does. Had it longer, too.”
“It’s who I am. Who I became.” He snorted, eyes drifting away from Giles’.
“You see ‘Spike’ as a character you portray, then?”
“Most of the time, ‘cept –” Spike’s eyes flashed, alert again. He clenched his mouth closed and seemed to forcibly stop himself completing the sentence.
As the headache returned, Giles felt his intellectual curiosity give way to exasperation. The silence was stilted, and as thick as the dust on the floor. Spike continued to glare at him, a muscle in his jaw twitching as he tried to resist the spell’s compulsion, and Giles stared right back, not relenting even as the light became offensively bright and cut into him with every flicker. Why hadn’t he brought some water down with him?
Spike wasn’t learning. Giles wasn’t surprised, though he did think himself an idiot for forgetting; Spike had never been a particularly quick study. It was one of his most irritating characteristics. “Except what?” he renewed the question, unable to keep the temper from his voice.
Spike’s head twitched, then, “Round Buffy,” came the prompt reply: tumbled words without any feeling. It took a second for Spike to realise that he’d spoken, but as he did his eyes narrowed, chin jutting out yet again.
Giles was not in the mood for Spike’s sulking. He lashed out, “Why?”
Spike’s expression didn’t alter.
The pounding behind Giles’ eyes had never really gone away and now his skull seemed far too small for his brain. He really did get himself into the worst situations.
Soon he couldn’t keep his eyes open and let his head roll back, too heavy to be supported. The light burned red across his eyelids, on and off, off and on, hot and scarring.
Silence persisted, but lost inside his own head Giles couldn’t help but sense some great, unquantifiable noise, battering his ears. What was the point? Really, what was it? “For God’s sake, man,” he found himself saying, voice weathered and brittle. “Just spit it out, will you?”
“Well.” Spike’s voice was full, and strangely loud. “Since you asked…”
Blinking into brightness, Giles forced his head upright again. He cursed himself, even as another flash of white light made him wince. Spike seemed for all appearances completely unaffected: he glanced down at one of his hands, apparently inspecting his nails, before looking back to Giles, eyes guilelessly wide. Giles saw them blearily, unable to relax the muscles around his own.
“It’s all about the way she looks at me,” Spike said. His gaze drifted casually away and he smiled, just slightly. There was a most definite sinking feeling in Giles’ stomach. “When we’re alone, or out and about with the kiddies.” The smile grew wider. “It’s as if she cares. And when she calls my name, it’s… it’s like she’s penetrating my very soul, like she’s calling for me.”
Giles wasn’t sure what was worse: the spell’s headache or the visceral distaste that threatened to turn into outright nausea. At least he could see Spike clearly now, and sense the dark steeliness behind his earnest expression and light tone of voice.
“We’ve come to peace with last year, you know,” Spike continued, acting as though he thought Giles cared. “I’d never thought it would be possible, but there you go. All thanks to the soul. Yeah – meant we could have some real conversations.”
A thoughtful pause (Christ, it all had to be true, didn’t it?) and then: “She told me what you said – about us relying on each other.” He nodded, as if Giles didn’t know they were talking about him. “We had a chat about that as well, nice and casual-like, one night on the back steps. Was a right good conversation. We decided we probably did – and that it wasn’t a bad thing. Everyone needs a person they can trust. ‘specially these days.” The comment about getting tortured by one’s own team didn’t need to be made.
Why did the idea of Buffy discussing their conversations with Spike bother him so much? Why did it unnerve him to imagine the pair of them blithely conferring at the back of the house, content in their own private council?
The moment he stood up Giles realised what a categorical error it was. His sinking feeling sank him further and his eyes drifted back to Spike, who, as bound as he was, still looked as though he were sprawling, smug, an indolent smirk filling his face.
Giles sat back down with as much dignity as he could muster.
After a few seconds Spike’s grin broke and his head tipped to face the ceiling. He continued with an air of casual revelation, “To tell you the truth,” he looked back, “which I think I might have to,” before falling away again, “I’d say last year brought us closer together, despite everything. I’d never have believed it myself, but I can’t help but enjoy the irony – after all, it was…” Spike’s face flickered for a second in irritation. “It was partly because of you.”
Giles nearly stood up again, but he controlled himself this time. Spike was back on him now, pinning him down with a glare, mask finally removed – or perhaps back in place, which was a rather disturbing possibility. “Sweet’s spell was the reason for that first time, but that was just a one-off. Spell induced. Hell, who else was gonna close the whole thing as the credits rolled? The witches were in meltdown and it’s not as if Harris’ ugly mug’s about to pull in the punters. Even I knew that one.
“No, it was the second time that actually started everything – and I think we both know what bombshell that was a reaction to.”
This had gone on long enough.
Giles crossed his arms, remaining neutral as Spike searched him for another sign of weakness. “Are you quite finished?”
Spike’s smirk didn’t falter. “With this particular nugget of discussion? I’d say… yeah. With the Slayer? Not nearly.”
Giles rolled his eyes. “I think it’s time to move on.” Although, really, he couldn’t let Spike get the upper hand like this. That grin was still extremely irritating. “Or perhaps… back.”
The question to ask came to him, and he couldn’t let it go. It was foolhardy, most definitely, but Giles couldn’t help but wonder if the problem with his previous personal questions was simply that they hadn’t been personal enough.
Spike was still, back on the verge of the defensive.
Giles couldn’t resist. “You were saying that Buffy has taken you into her confidence. I’m merely wondering; how, exactly, does that make you feel?”
There was a second, and then Spike’s lips parted from shock. His look of betrayal and, oddly enough, disappointment caused a twinge, making Giles wonder whether he hadn’t gone below the belt.
It was soon forgotten, however, as the silence rose again, as thick and tense as before. Giles refused to look away this time.
Of course, there was nothing to see. Spike simply sulked, his jaw clamped shut as he stared at his knees. The thought began to surface in Giles’ pounding mind that he’d done the spell wrong, and Spike wasn’t feeling a thing. It was possible. Magic wasn’t science after all, no matter what Willow still seemed to believe. It was fickle.
A spark of panic threaded into his veins before he could stop it, and his heart began to speed up. It made his head hammer harder, throb from somewhere deeper; his pulse was trying to escape with a pickaxe.
Minutes in and Spike at last frowned. It didn’t feel like any sort of victory.
Giles’ heart sped up and everything tilted. Why had he not thought of this? Spike was a vampire. His heart didn’t even beat. He’d had the chip. Headaches weren’t anything new.
His own frail tolerance didn’t stand a chance.
The slit of sight Giles called his vision was blurring, casting Spike as one pale spot against the dingy wall. His heart sped ever faster. His irises ached and his head was so hot and heavy he nearly collapsed from the weight of it. He was going to have a heart attack, he was going to have a heart attack and the certainty of it made him shiver with cold.
Black spots invaded the murk in front of him. They brought with them a susurrant murmur, soft but so very dark, running at high frequency above the unrelenting beat of his brain against his skull.
And then his head was empty. The pain was gone.
Giles clutched the edges of his chair, hands rank with sweat as his heart still pounded on. Finally he realised that Spike must have answered him.
Swallowing, he looked up. Spike’s face was clouded, but there was a horrifying comprehension there – unyielding, he spoke. “Why?”
Giles panicked again, and as he drew a ragged breath he couldn’t speak. Without warning words began to drive up his throat, clogging it as they rose into his mouth, forcing themselves past his lips. “I want the truth.” It wasn’t enough: there was still more to say, and he could barely breathe as it forced itself around his tongue. “I want to know what you saw under the influence of the Prokaryote Stone. I want to assess the risk you pose, and deal with it if necessary. I want to know what your motives are.” His heart pounded. Pain’s first blossom hit behind his forehead. Words, words were raising his voice and he had never even thought them before. “I want to know whether I can trust Buffy’s judgement any longer, and whether my own has become suspect. I want to know what the hell it is she sees in you that deems you worthy of her trust.”
He focussed on the floor, grey with dust, but panic would not leave him. Spike had to know.
The drawl came. “How… comprehensive.” Giles could barely find a grip on the chair the wood was so slick and across from him Spike’s voice cracked like a whip. “Why not just ask?”
“I presumed you would lie.” He was in control of this situation, damn it.
“Why not get Buffy to ask?”
“I presumed you would lie to her.” His heart could bloody well calm down now.
The next question never came, and Giles didn’t really care why. He forced himself to stop his frantic breathing, and inhale steadily to the count of five. He held the air then let it out again, cycling through the process, again and again, until his raging heart submitted and began to slow down.
He released the edges of the chair, wiped his hands on his trousers and looked up, finally, at Spike.
In the unstable gloom of the basement, frowning at the floor between them, the vampire looked almost pensive. It was an odd change, and Giles wondered how long he’d spent just breathing.
No matter; it was time to get on with it. Giles knew he only had himself to blame for his sticky clothes – he should really know how to interrogate people; there was no excuse for the mindless point-scoring he’d been doing. All he wanted to do was make Spike behave like the adult he clearly wasn’t and consider the trigger, so that they could disable it. It was taking far too long.
Giles hoped Spike’s thoughts were already there and leapt straight in, asking lightly, “What did you see under the influence of the Prokaryote Stone?”
Spike shook his head, dismissive. “Mother and me, before I died.” He didn’t raise his eyes.
“Where were you?” All he had to do was guide his thoughts, let him sort it through.
“In the morning room.”
“What colour was the carpet?” Simple, innocuous questions. Lead him into the memory.
Spike frowned a little more deeply. “Er… red. Several shades of red and a little green.”
With a curse for patterned carpets Giles tried to keep his rhythm. “What was the predominant colour of the wallpaper?”
“Cream.” Spike seemed to be falling back.
“What was the colour of the chairs?”
“What is the colour of your suit?”
“Grey.” Spike’s expression didn’t even flicker with the change of tense. Giles held back his relief.
“What is the colour of your mother’s dress?”
It was time to build the momentum. “What is your mother’s name?”
He would ignore that particular coincidence. “What does your mother mean to you?”
“Where is your father?”
How very Freudian. “What happens to your mother?”
“I kill her.”
That was perhaps a little less so. “When?”
“When I become a vampire.”
“Do you sire her?”
“I want her with me. I want her well.”
“What happens to her then?”
“I kill her again.”
“She is not the same.”
“She’s a demon.” Spike’s head rose suddenly, his wide, unseeing eyes staring through Giles’ face. “A demon’s twisting her memories, making her say things. It’s pretending she always thought I wanted to have sex with her, but it’s not – ”
“What?” The question tumbled stilted from Giles’ throat and snapped his rhythm in two.
Spike’s eyes flashed, surprised for a second before they saw him again. Betrayal, greater than before, cut them to slits.
Giles knew that he knew: it was written on his face. And in that moment he himself knew Spike would rather watch him die than answer, and was going to.
Nothing could stop his panic as it rose again. Spike never made a sound, even as Giles’ vision went completely black, or as he felt himself crumble to the floor.
When he woke he was lying on concrete, and it was almost a surprise.
Spike was still chained above, but that didn’t really bother him. It was possibly odd that Spike hadn’t yet escaped, but what was most disconcerting was the fact that Buffy hadn’t yet found them. Even as he’d fallen he’d had some sense of that certainty.
Grey dust muddied his hands, smearing his glasses as he fixed them back over his nose. The movement seemed to attract Spike’s attention.
“Ah, Rupert, you’re awake,” he sneered. “You managed to sleep through my little story.” Giles peered at him blearily. “I can’t say I mind. Physically, I mean.” He smirked. “Funny thing is, neither can you.”
Nerves jittering, Giles began to pull himself back onto his chair. He forced the question past his lips: “Is the trigger still active?”
Spike glared. “Shouldn’t think so. When was the last time you got shagged?”
Giles knew that it was quite possible he deserved this. “Last March.” It wasn’t enough. “On a Saturday.” His hand started to shake, resting on the back of the chair. He was still kneeling in the dust and he knew Spike wanted more.
He couldn’t think, and soon the pain was back. There were no words to fill his throat, because he didn’t know them, yet still it closed. He tried to think, tried work it out – his birthday was on a Wednesday this year, so it had been a Tuesday, which made the first of April a Monday, giving him the thirtieth, and the twenty-third, and the sixteenth, and the ninth, and the second.
He couldn’t think, he couldn’t think. It was after the United game, which was the week before his birthday and had to be the thirtieth. He couldn’t open his eyes, and the awful sense of humiliation and fear of what was coming made it worse. “The thirtieth. The thirtieth of March, 2002.”
It was justice, of a kind. He could see that. It just didn’t mean anything.
“How long d’you last?”
Giles almost laughed. For the first time since he was grateful he’d been that drunk. “I haven’t the faintest idea.” He pulled himself fully onto the chair and sat back with a sigh. Spike sulked.
The stalemate continued until, at last, Giles remembered that he was supposed to have control over this spell. “mentiri possimus,” he muttered, with a quick flex of his mind.
He felt a tension leave him, and collapsed further into his chair, staring at Spike and wondering what to do.
“You’re a bastard,” Spike finally said. Giles supposed he’d been trying to call him that all along. He must look like he was born in wedlock. How wonderful.
“I really wouldn’t know.”
Spike was appraising him, cold and shrewd. Fleetingly Giles wondered if he’d be allowed back in the house. He’d done his job, of course. Spike was no longer a threat. In the long run the git would probably be more useful than him anyway.
“What was with the masochistic bit?”
Giles sighed. He hadn’t the energy to come up with a witty riposte, which was mildly ironic. “It seemed a price worth paying.”
Sitting slightly forward, Giles let his head roll back to rest on the chair. “God, it was worth it only to wipe that idiotic smirk from your face.” He really wanted a scotch, and a lie down.
“My, my, the truth does seem to be catching, doesn’t it?” Absently Giles wondered how Spike could recover so quickly.
The grey ceiling appeared intermittently before him. There was a damp patch over in the corner, which he was certain had never been there when he’d lived here. It was quite likely there was mould around as well. With his luck he’d have caught something off the floor.
Then there was a crash, above them. It sounded as if someone had just kicked his door in.
Spike, when Giles looked back, was smiling, ever so slightly. It was only momentarily though, before he jumped and rounded on him. “You will tell her nothing.”
Initially Giles didn’t know what he was talking about. Then he remembered that he was supposed to have heard Spike’s confession of his feelings, earlier.
He snorted. “Gladly.”
“Spike!” The cry echoed down into the dank room. They both stilled.
“Quick, get these chains off me.” Spike struggled, and Giles realised suddenly that it was the first time that night he’d tried to escape.
He rose slowly, lumbering from his chair and feeling every inch the decrepit fifty-something. The key was still in his interior pocket and he took it out, before shakily undoing the locks.
Doors slammed upstairs, the noise coming closer as Spike hastily threw the chains into a corner. Rising, Giles put a hand, lightly, on his shoulder. “Why?” he asked.
Spike turned, and Giles worryingly felt himself stumble. By the time he had regained his feet Spike was completely inscrutable. “The way I heard it, it was this or Principal Wood,” he spat the name, “and an evening spent trying not to kill the git.” Giles felt aghast, but Spike just nodded. “Respect a bloke who’ll take his knocks. And you’re needed – I won’t have Buffy feel like she’s betraying me.”
A moment. “He’s Nikki’s son, you know.” For some reason Giles felt that he should say.
Spike fingered the lapel of his coat, before dropping his hand back. “Figures,” he said with a sigh, eyes rolling to the ceiling.
“What the hell is going on?”
The pair of them jumped, then turned to see Buffy clatter down the stairs, a rich pool of yellow light flooding in behind her. Giles noticed vaguely that her ire was most definitely trained on him.
The poor girl looked remarkably close to tears. She raised a hand, curled into a fist, before shaking her head, releasing it. “Don’t you dare, Giles,” she whispered. “Don’t even...”
And then Spike, the wanker, threw an arm around his shoulders and almost made him stumble again. “It’s all right, love. Rupert and I were just having a good old heart-to-heart.”
Buffy’s eyes left Giles’ then, and he felt Spike’s bluster falter. The arm fell away.
Giles stepped back and watched as Spike scratched the back of his head. He didn’t seem to be able to meet Buffy’s eyes. Giles couldn’t look at them himself, but he suspected that they might have different reasons.
At last, Spike looked up. “Er… Well. The trigger’s gone.”
It was as though an actual weight had been lifted from her shoulders. Bitterly Giles supposed that she really did think about these things.
She took a few steps closer to Spike, and it seemed like it was unconscious. With a glance of irritation Giles knew the role he had to play.
“We haven’t actually made certain,” he said, nearly faltering. There were times when he really wished he had become a grocer.
Buffy turned on him, and her anger was back. “Then make it.”
“How exactly…” he began, but Buffy was back on Spike, smiling with some sort of assurance. Spike looked reluctant, but let her take hold of his wrists and bring them up between them.
Giles had no idea what was going on, until Spike looked at him helplessly. Then he realised he was supposed to sing.
Objection struck him viscerally, and he had to take a step back. He opened his mouth, but Buffy turned and stared him down, fierce in the glow of the light she’d brought.
The test was for him, he realised, just as much as for Spike. This was his chance to swear his fealty and declare his vassalage. He wouldn’t be surprised if it were the only one he got.
“Early –” His voice cracked, and he coughed. He wondered if his lungs were shot – how long had he spent on the floor anyway? He took a shaky breath and let it out again, fixing his eyes on Spike and daring him to change. Even as he sang his mind ticked over the capability of the sand in his pocket. “Early one morning, just as the sun was rising…”
He stumbled over the first few notes, but muddled his way through to the end. Spike nodded at him, face still and looking quite old, before turning back to Buffy. She seemed to scrutinise him for a few moments longer. An eyebrow raised and Buffy retreated, blushing, letting go of his wrists and glancing away.
At last she looked at Giles, her eyes defiant still, but warmer than they had been for a while. “I’m glad you boys talked things out,” she said, with a wry twist of her lips.
“Quite,” Giles replied. She shook her head.
The three of them stood awkwardly, fragments of disturbed dust swirling in the air between them. Giles couldn’t work out whether he or Spike was the extra body in the room.
It seemed decided when Buffy turned to Spike, pensive frown knitting her forehead. “We should get back – the sun’ll be up soon.”
Spike nodded, and the two of them looked to him, a single, unified front.
“Are you coming?” Buffy asked.
Giles winced as his leg twitched. He really needed that scotch. “I’ll follow on behind you,” he replied. Buffy nodded.
He watched them climb the steps, waiting till they had gone. With one last glance around the room he pulled the remaining sand from his pocket. It was as gold as ever, but felt like shards of glass.
With a sigh he scattered it to the floor, stepping fully over it as he, too, left.