Transformations - Chapter 21

Giles put more of an effort into climbing the spiral after that--but whether the extra effort meant he felt perkier or, after their complaining, was just trying to spare them the drag of his weight, Buffy couldn't say. He still looked gray, and he was breathing hard--both she and Willow kept darting worried little glances at him and at each other, their eyes sliding guiltily away from every look, as if they hadn't meant to get caught.

"Is that Xander?" Willow asked, when they'd almost reached the top.

Buffy glanced up, catching sight of the guys a couple twists of the spiral away. "Xander and Wes. Yeah, definitely Wes--I think I heard him whimper."

"Buffy," Willow said again. Will was getting good: she seemed to fit quite the variety of inflections into that one name.

Buffy watched Xander help Wesley to his feet, and saw the two of them start to yell at each other in that guy way that meant they were scared instead of mad. Buffy couldn't make out their words, but the two men hurried off, Xander still helping Wes, who limped hard on his bad leg.

"I guess his spell wore off too," Willow said softly, gazing upward. "Why hasn't Giles's, I wonder?"

"Coulda fooled me," Buffy answered, but she thought her friend was probably right. If the two spells Will told her about--the one for strength and the one that hid injuries--weren't still in place, Giles probably wouldn't be with them now.

Buffy took a tighter grip on his arm, one hand curled around his biceps, the other holding his good hand. He gave her a look as the metal edge of one cuff bit into his skin, but the look was one of pity, not of criticism.

"It's okay, Giles," she told him. "It's over, and I kinda got used to them. They'll come off soon enough. Will you please hit me over the head with a frying pan if I ever, ever try something that stupid again?"

He shook his head "no," way too serious for what she'd meant as a joke. His thumb ran lightly across the back of her hand, then turned it over: Giles hadn't been looking at the cuff after all, but at the scrape-marks Helena's fangs had made on Buffy's wrist, two red lines that still hadn't faded. His eyes got hard and silvery, that mirror-look that always unnerved her.

"It's okay," Buffy hurried to assure him, amazed at how much he could tell her with just his face and his eyes--and at how well she could read him. Had he been telling her these things all along, and she'd never noticed before? How much had she missed?

"Sure, it was close, Giles," she said to him gently, trying to reassure him. "I won't lie to you, I thought I was toast. But Helena didn't hurt me--" Buffy noticed his confusion. "Helena--that's the bad vamp, remember? She didn't bite me. No bites." She tipped her head sideways to show him her neck: nothing there but the white scars left by Angel's teeth. "Your timing was impeccable."

Giles smiled a little, vaguely, at her use of the big word--but a second later he lurched and almost went down. Both she and Willow fought frantically not to lose him; they'd never get Giles up again.

"Buffy!" Willow cried out, her eyes really wide--she had hold of his injured arm, and she was probably terrified of hurting him. Willow had big issues with hurting anyone.

"He'll make it, won't you, sweetie?" Buffy drew his arm around her shoulders, thinking how funny it was for her to be calling Giles, of all people, "sweetie"--but the word had just slipped out. She hoped he didn't mind--or that he did mind, and that minding meant he had opinions, likes and dislikes, the way he always had. To see him all blanked out like this gave her the worst desire to wear her trendiest shoes in front of him, the ones she knew he hated, or to put spoonfuls of sugar into her tea, just to see him grimace, because that was something her Giles would do.

His quietness scared her, and the lost, burned-out look on his face.

Buffy slid her other arm in around his waist; she could give him more help that way.

Up ahead she caught sight of Xander and Wesley again, the two of them standing really still, like kids playing "Statues" in the park. Moira and Helena had frozen a little ways away from them, and a tall, flitting shadow that might have been Maria crossed Buffy's vision, then disappeared.

"Hey! Moira!" Xander yelled, his voice a little higher than usual, which meant he was really, really scared.

"The wall of fire's almost gone," Willow murmured, glancing up at Giles.

"Gone," he echoed, not just agreeing, but saying something else with the word, something Buffy almost understood. He meant that the Wild Magic had gone, it wasn't keeping the weirdness going anymore. Except for the trees--and Buffy figured those were there to stay, the world's creepiest city park.

"Your Ladyship." As usual, Wes's voice was so crisp you could have put it in a salad. He sounded just as scared as Xander, though not in the shrill, girly way she always teased him about.

In the dying firelight, Moira's hair looked like fire itself. Buffy had never seen anyone with the expression the older woman wore on her face--that's what it looked like, she realized, to be tempted past what you could stand. Moira was going to let Helena kill her and turn her--Buffy could see that clearer than anything--and the Watcher just didn't care. It didn't matter that Helena might be fooling her, as long as the tiniest chance remained that she might not be.

"Don't ever do that," she whispered to Giles. "No matter how much you want to. Even if it seems like the best idea. Never, never, never go there. Promise me."

For almost the first time since she'd found him, the lost look left his eyes. He nodded, and his hand curled tighter around hers.

"It was terrible," the vampire Helena said, sounding for once like a real girl, pretty much like the girl on Giles's tape. "I was so scared, and you weren't there. Afterwards, I wanted to come to you a million times, but I was afraid."

"Afraid?" Moira asked, not even pretending to fight anymore.

"That you wouldn't love me anymore." Without her vamp-face on, her long curly black hair hanging down over her shoulders and her big chocolate-colored eyes gazing up at her former Watcher, Helena was beautiful. The vampire knew how to make her voice beautiful too--all soft and pleading and melty. She raised one hand to touch Moira's cheek, then ran it down her jaw and over her throat, leaning in a little closer all the time.

"You don't love me anymore, do you?"

"Why should you say that, Lena?"

The vampire stared at the pulse in Moira's neck, eyeing it hungrily--but the funny thing was, what Buffy saw didn't look like blood-lust hunger, but more like that obsessive you-belong-only-to-me type thing. How could Moira fall for that?

"Because you did all this--" Helena waved a hand at the fire and the trees. "You wouldn't just come to me, even when you knew how much I wanted you. You made me hurt Rupert, and hold Buffy hostage--"

"Bullcrap," Buffy muttered. "You loved every second of it, you crazy bitch."

Giles shot her a look. His eyes had darkened almost to what Buffy thought of as their normal color, which was a grayish-green, like the ocean.

"Do you think I ever wanted to do those things?" Helena asked.

"Sure looked that way to me," Buffy said aloud, but neither Moira nor the ex-Slayer seemed to hear her.

"All I ever wanted in the whole wide world was you," Helena added, and that part, at least, Buffy believed to be completely true.

"Lena," Moira said in this soft little lost voice, nothing like her regular tone at all. The stake slid right out of her hand and hit the ground. Buffy waited for her to pick it up, but Moira left it lying, not even seeming to realize the weapon was gone.

All of them stood there for a minute, no one moving a muscle, then Moira's eyes closed and her head tilted back, presenting the vampire with the smooth curve of her throat. Helena traced the line of one of the big veins with an index finger, her other hand cradling the back of Moira's head.

"No!" Xander jumped forward, raising his stake--which was brave of him, Buffy had to admit. Except that Xander seemed to have forgotten he wasn't super-strong anymore. Helena knocked him away she was like swatting a fly. The ex-Slayer had some moves, Buffy had to admit, and she didn't even have to raise her head to look before she hit.

Helena had great aim, too: Xander flew back into Willow, Willow crunched into Giles, and Giles landed on Buffy like a ton of bricks, knocking all the breath out of her body.

Nice time for a Three Stooges moment, Buffy thought, trying not to panic as she attempted to suck even a little air back into her lungs. Giles looked like he was down to stay and, Slayer-strength or not, with the four of them tangled up together, she had the worst time trying to squirm out from beneath him.

Helena's teeth broke the surface of Moira's pale throat. Ribbons of the Watcher's blood flowed red over her fair skin, and the former Slayer traced them delicately with the tip of her tongue. Moira made a little noise that Buffy couldn't understand--it might have been sad, but it might have been a cry of pleasure too, or maybe both those things mixed together. Maybe it was just the sound you made when you gave up once and for all.

Helena only sipped from her at first, but soon began to pull harder, sucking at Moira's blood with a terrible, animal sound, one Buffy knew well: it was the same sound Angel made, drinking her.

For over a minute Buffy couldn't move. She could only lie frozen with Giles still half on top of her, that horrible night replaying in her memory, fast and slow, with sound and without. One of the worst nights of her life, maybe the worst--and she had plenty to choose from.

Moira sagged, and the vampire cradled her body. Helena's face pressed deeper in the Watcher's throat.

Move, Buffy told herself, but she couldn't. The whole thing felt like fate, something that had to happen, that she had no power to prevent. Maybe that was a bunch of b.s., but it felt real

Stop this, she ordered herself again. Do something.

Before she could even get to her feet, Wesley stepped up behind Helena, and without even a second of hesitation, or the smallest shiver of fear, buried a stake with perfect precision in the vampire's heart.

Helena whirled, fangs blood, eyes flashing yellow. She shoved Moira toward him with one hand, and both Watchers went down.

Helena's face took on the most terrifying look Buffy ever saw in her life--then the ashes rushed up the former Slayer's body to explode everywhere, the dust flying out with such violence Buffy felt a whole cloud of it settle onto her skin.

Wes picked himself up, not bothering to brush off his clothes. He hadn't screamed--not like a girl or even like a guy. He hadn't so much as stepped backward. Buffy's unwanted Watcher had lost his glasses somewhere and even though they hadn't been big glasses, it seemed like without them way, way more of his face showed. More of Wesley showed, like there really was a person inside there after all.

Wesley's blue eyes blazed down at Moira. A single muscle worked in his jaw. He really did look just like a guy--a really, really fussy-neat guy, especially all things considered--but a real guy, with feelings, the biggest and hottest one, at that moment, being total blind fury.

Moira pulled her knees up against her chest, gazing back at Wesley with the saddest look on her face. She seemed surprised, too, but whether that was by his actions or by her own behavior Buffy couldn't tell. The trickle of blood from the already-scarred part of her throat had slowed, but the senior Watcher looked pale, like she was almost ready to go into shock.

"Get up." Wesley reached down a hand, hauling Moira to her feet. He'd gotten cranky in the past, but the way he'd acted before was always so cold, or so prissy, or so stupid, no one ever paid him any attention. This time he not only sounded mad, he sounded something else besides--passionate, that was the word.

"That wasn't what we planned, or what we agreed upon," he told Moira in a cold, cold voice.

"Wesley," she murmured.

"No!" He raised a hand to cut off her words. "We agreed between ourselves that you should distract and I should stake. I would very much like to know, however, what took the place of that rational plan?"

Wesley had bite marks on his own neck, and a teeny spot of blood on his collar, but he wasn't making any sort of big deal about it--he acted like he didn't even know. Buffy realized that he'd started doing that thing Giles sometimes did with her--yelling at Moira without raising his voice, using that tone that, from Giles, always made Buffy feel so much worse than regular yelling ever could. When Giles snapped at her, she always knew he was really just way too tired, or else was mad at himself about something, which always made him a little impatient--when he used that voice, though, it let Buffy know done something completely wrong, and he wasn't going to let her off the hook.

She'd never in a million years expected that sort of voice to come from Wesley's mouth.

"I needn't explain myself to you," Moira answered, pulling herself up straight and tall--she had the snooty bitch vibe down so well she could've given lessons to Gwendolyn Post.

"Oh, needn't you?" Wesley asked, in a tone worse than any Buffy ever heard Giles use, up to and including the time he found out about her hiding Angel, the angriest at her she'd ever seen him get without going postal.

Moira started to turn away, but Wesley grabbed her arm. They had a little struggle of wills, both of them fighting hard, neither one quite able to move.

"Smart money's on Moira," Xander whispered, rubbing his head. He looked like he was going to be left with a bad black eye as a souvenir of the night's fun.

Moira broke first, though, ripping her arm away from Wesley's hold. She yelled at him in a harsh, broken voice, "It was Helena. My God, Wesley, it was Helena. And I couldn't-- I simply couldn't--"

"It was a vampire," Wesley told her in a softer voice. "It wasn't Helena at all. You know that Moira, or you ought to. What made you so dreadfully willing to throw away your life? To throw away all of our lives?"

"Because I ought to have died!" she screamed. Her eyes flashed and her face was dead white, even with the dying fire's glow reflecting from her skin. Buffy thought she looked half crazy. "I loved her." Moira's voice dropped low. "I ought to have died in her place."

"It's called Survivors Guilt," Wesley informed her coolly.

"People make convenient little names for things they haven't felt," Moira answered, stalking around him, the long, braided tail of her hair moving like a snake against her back. "What would you know about love, you chilly bastard?"

It scared Buffy how much Moira's voice had changed. She didn't sound like the same lady; she truly sounded like she was losing it. Maybe her cool, together act had always been that--just an act. Maybe she'd always known that moment would arrive, and she'd go with it.

Wesley touched her carefully on the arm. He kept his eyes on hers, like a man setting out to tame a spooked thoroughbred.

Moira got calm, or maybe that wasn't the right word--it seemed like she went crashing straight from red hot to icy cold, and she seemed to read something in Wesley's eyes. "What you feel, or believe you feel, Mr. Wyndham-Price--that's nothing," she told him, and even to Buffy her voice sounded cruel. "LeFaye magic, only that. You'll find it in your reference books under the listing Faery and Magical Glamours. We put out a spell of attraction, can't help it--none of it means a thing."

"Why are you saying this?" Wesley asked her, sounding curious more than anything else--he didn't even seem offended.

"Do you hear me, Wesley? It means nothing. We chew up men and spit them out again. Ask my father, or my grandfather, what it's like to be with a LeFaye. You're well quit of me."

"Am I?" Wesley's fingertips ran down her arms, until he'd captured both Moira's hands. He pulled her so close to him they did the full body touch. Buffy'd always thought that if anyone got that close to Wesley, they'd just kind of get bounced back again, repelled by the anti-wrinkle layer, or something--but Moira didn't bounce back; she stayed.

Again, Wesley's fingers brushed down her arms and up again. He stroked her shoulders, and cupped her face between his hands, bringing her in even closer for a kiss that showed every sign of being deep, sweet and warm--nothing like the wet fish kiss Cordy had described. It made Buffy wonder what the whole thing with Cordelia had been about--Cordy trying to make Xander jealous? Wesley trying to get over someone he wasn't even supposed to love, who lived thousands of miles away, in another country?

Moira pulled back, clearly confused--she definitely hadn't expected the kiss, or any of the stuff that went with it. "I-- Wesley--" She touched her mouth "My God," she said.

"It must be an evil spell, mustn't it? No one could possibly love you for yourself," Wesley said to her, with something that could almost be mistaken for humor. "Good Lord, Moira! With apologies to the lovely Miss Chase, you're only the most beautiful and fascinating woman I've ever known."

The senior Watcher shook her head, pushing her fingers back into her hair. "Not just now, Wesley. Not just now. It's too much."

"I know," he answered briskly. "The passions of the moment have been a trifle overwhelming. Later, perhaps, Your Ladyship?"

Buffy got a sudden picture of Wesley still calling Moira "Your Ladyship" in bed--and thought that he probably would, and that it would be okay. He reached out and took Moira's hand before he turned to the four of them, still sprawled out on the ground.

"Hey, Wes," Buffy said.

"Yes. As you say. 'Hey.'" Wesley gave a funny little smile, and started to run a hand through his hair, but then thought better of it. All they'd been through, and not a single strand had moved out of place--it was like he dipped his head in plastic, or something, and let his hair freeze into shape, never to move again. His pants still had those knife-edged creases, while everyone else, even Moira, looked like they'd crawled through garbage and ashes. Wesley's neatness was just bizarre--it was like a super-power.

"I should say," Wes said, looking down at them, his face more than a little distressed--maybe at the thought of his ultra-grubby friends adding another level of messiness to the inside of his no-longer-immaculate van. "I should say it's high time we thought about making our way home."

No one seemed inclined to argue.

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