Almost Heaven

A Vision of a Ghost Long Gone

Dawn paced the kitchen. Her stomach both ached for something to eat, and rebelled at the idea of putting food in it. Buffy had been gone hours with no word.

"Stupid…." Stupid what? Stupid Buffy? Everything was fine before Buffy had become a slayer. Dad, mom, normality, all gone. Buffy's slayerness ruined everything.

"Oh sweetheart, please don't blame you sister."

Dawn's eyes widened as she stared at Joyce. "M-Mommy?"

Joyce smiled warmly, wrapping her arms around Dawn. "I've missed you girls so much."

"I missed you too," Dawn whispered into Joyce's shoulder. "What are you doing here?"

"I don't have much time, so you must listen carefully."

"No! You can't leave me again. You can't—"

"Dawn," Joyce interrupted sternly, "Buffy thinks the apocalypse is over, but it isn't. Dawn, you have to tell her. And tell her that she can't trust Giles. And most importantly—"

Rufus spoke as he entered through the backdoor. "I don't know about you two, but this conversation is boring me."

Joyce moved protectively in front of Dawn. The deceptively old wizard wasn't supposed to be capable of seeing her. No one except Dawn was supposed to.

"You should not be here, Rufus."

"Yes? Well, I may not be able to find a competent partner, but I can still hide my actions from a stinking angel." He walked through Joyce, straight to Dawn. "And I'm no novice. I know angels aren't allowed to affect the world around them, just their target. Bet you're wondering how I can see you. You can ponder that while I send your daughters up to you and their maker."

Joyce watched helplessly as Rufus stood in front of Dawn, leering nastily. She called for help, but no one could hear.

Dawn found her voice. "What is it you want from me?"

"The hero's gonna come for you, sweetheart," Rufus giggled mockingly, "and … well, I just happen to be in the market for a hero." He tapped her forehead, and electric static snapped between his fingertip and Dawn's skin. The contact short-circuited Dawn's brainwaves, and she collapsed. Rufus caught her with ready arms.

"Let her go!" Joyce roared. "Oh, Dawn. Somebody help … please," she addressed the wizard, "please don't hurt her. I'll do anything."

He winked. "See you later, angel." He turned his back on Joyce and carried the teen out the kitchen door.

If you wanted something done right, he mused, you have to do it yourself.

XxXxXxXxXxXxXxXx

Giles' eyes followed Ripper. "Why won't you leave me alone?"

"Because, Rupert, you aren't doing your part. You're willing to let the world die, because you are weak." He sat down on the edge of the dining room table. "Buffy is slutting it up with the sodding enemy. She's savored the seductive essence of evil. Rolled in the filth. Embraced a murdering, sadistic vampire. A kin to the murderer of your sweet Jenny Calendar.

"Listen to me, mate, she's too far gone. Spike, William the bloody, the slayer of slayers has taken your charge away for once and all. Now if she doesn't die - doesn't make room for the next one, well… the world is doomed."

Giles clenched his eyelids shut. That blocked out the image of his youthful dream self, but the words vibrated in his skull. Images shot through his mind's eye. Horrible scenes, disgusting and wrong. Buffy – his slayer, his responsibility, the girl he felt a fatherly affection for, together with Spike! So awfully wrong … infuriating. Liquid fire coursed through his veins and burned his heart.

He opened his clenched jaws. "Buffy must…." He started, his knuckles turning white as he gripped the armrests.

"Yes?" Ripper prompted cordially.

"Buffy … Buffy must die."

Ripper's lips spread back against his teeth, and his grin contained a triumphant sneer.

"Yes."

XxXxXxXxXxXxXx

Willow hopped in place, pointing through the one unbroken window in the front of Buffy's house.

"They're back!" she cried. Her voice stirred Giles from his slumber.

He blinked and rubbed his eyes, which had dark circles around them.

"Hmm?" he croaked blearily.

"They're back, Giles, they got Xander, he's back!" Unable to contain herself longer, Willow ran excitedly out the door and shouted eager greetings.

Giles watched them through the window impassively, not moving except for a twitch that affected his jaw muscles. "Tea," he murmured to the empty room. "Tea."

William was helping Xander stand as much as Xander was helping him, and he stumbled forward as Xander's weight transferred from his shoulder to Willow.

"William." Buffy grasped the back of his shirt, steadying him as best she could.

He staggered back into her arms.

"You okay?"

William reclined his head back on her shoulder. "Mmm, hmmumm…."

Buffy helped him into the house. "I don't speak sleep, but I guess that's a yes?"

She deposited him onto the couch. "I'm going to get the first aid kit," she told him.

He answered with a soft snore.

Buffy half smiled. She didn't know he breathed in his sleep. "I should," she mused. She should know his sleeping patterns. They were together enough.

He mumbled something arbitrary in his sleep and shifted with a pained wince.

She brushed his hair back, fingering his brown roots. It was so much easier to be affectionate when they were alone, and he was asleep.

"Buffy?" Giles snapped. "What the hell are you doing with that… that thing?"

Buffy's eyes narrowed, and she pushed down the fear that accompanied being caught doing something deemed shameful.

She stood straight, and moved a step away from the prone body of the vampire. "I haven't forgiven you yet. Don't push me."

Giles stared stonily, but his features soon melted into a fake acceptance. "Yes, of course. I made some tea."

Buffy raised her eyebrow. "Umm, thanks? I'm not British, though. And 'side, I gotta patch William up. He's lost too much blood to heal too good."

"Well," Giles corrected.

"What?"

"Nothing," he sighed. American's butchered the English language. "I'll bring him the tea, and you the medical kit."

"Thank you." Buffy wasn't ready to not be mad at Giles, but she was easing into the idea. If he kept up his good behavior, she'd be ready to like him again in no time.

Buffy carefully rolled William onto his back. The horrid gashes that littering his torso made Buffy cringe. How could he have even moved?

"I fell asleep," William murmured softly, and looked at her through squinted eyes.

"Yeah. I guess you needed it." She went to stroke his cheek, but thought better of it, and instead surveyed his wounds.

William hummed from deep in his chest. "You're warm."

She didn't know whether she should pull away, or give in to the temptation that was lips of Spike… William. Giles walked in and her decision was made easier. She pulled back to take the proffered kit.

"I have your tea." Giles offered William cup as he walked up.

"Oh, I've never heard a more attractive sentence," William smiled.

"Hmm, indeed."

Buffy rolled her eyes as she searched for the items she needed. "You two are sooooo stuffy. And William can't drink until I've patched up his stomach. It could end up very Tom and Jerry, only with tea."

"You realized that that is a cartoon, correct?" Giles asked drolly.

"Well maybe I just don't want him to spill."

Giles huffed impatiently. "It will get cold."

Buffy shook her head as she cut away William's shirt. "You drink it if you're that worried."

"He really should…" Giles' eyes paused on the gentle way Buffy tended to the deep wound on William's stomach. He blinked himself back to the moment. "… drink the tea." He put the mug in the vampire's hands.

Buffy harrumphed as she took several second to seek out the iodine. She ended up digging all the way to the bottom of the considerable bag.

William gazed up at Giles. "What type of tea is it?" he attempted to fill the silence.

"English Breakfast."

William smiled. "My mother drank that religiously." He hissed as Buffy started to clean one of the many gouges."Sorry," she said sheepishly.

"It's oka—ow!"

"Okay, don't a baby. It hurts, but not that much."

"I don't even need iodine. I'm dead."

"Drink the tea and zip it."

"Yes," Giles agreed readily. "Drink up."

William eyed the older Brit. Younger, actually, he thought. He didn't trust him as far as he could… well, as far as Xander could throw him.

"Almost ready to bandage this," Buffy informed.

William nodded, bringing the lip of the mug to his mouth. Something was very off with the scent. Without sipping he brought it down again.

"Are you sure this is English Breakfast?" he inquired.

"Yes. Now drink the bloody thing."

Buffy took it out of William's hands. "Arms down. I have to work on your shoulder."

Giles groaned and slumped into the easy chair.

William busied himself trying to figure out Giles' motives, as Buffy applied more iodine. He could swear she was using acid, but she assured him that he was just a big baby.

Time passed rather quickly, and Buffy's movements were caresses. She didn't even gripe about his near constant whining.

She smiled, sitting on the floor. "Done."

He sat up, wincing. "Now you need help."

"Do I get to drink tea and cry too?"

"I didn't cry! Boys don't cry. I was-"

"Weeping?" Buffy teased.

"Well if you didn't used that horrid iodine…."

"I had to."

"I don't catch diseases!"

"Yeah… well that's what people use, so stop bellyaching."

William gave in with a soft chuckle. "All right."

Buffy picked up the tea. "Just for complaining, I'm drinking this."

William caught a pained look pass over Giles' features, and everything clicked. He knocked the cup from Buffy's hands.

"Hey I was-"

"Look." William pointed at the fizzling contents as they melted carpet.

Buffy turned wide, questioning eyes to Giles. "You made that tea. You… you…."

"It was meant for Spike," he said as though that explained away everything.

"That makes it better!?" she yelled.

"You would have let her die," William said, standing despite his injuries.

"You were supposed to drink it. If you had, I know I wouldn't have had to kill Buffy. But I couldn't stop her. If she knew, I wouldn't be able to kill you, and then I wouldn't be able to kill her either, and that…that is bad. Ripper, he told me. That leads to the worlds end.

"I didn't do anything wrong. You, you poisoned her first, with your evil seed. It's your fault, not mine. You poisoned her mind. Made her disregard what you are. I didn't…."

"You son of a bitch." Buffy's fists turned white with the intensity of her anger.

William's eyes darted over Giles, and he noted everything from the rumpled clothes to the dark circles under his eyes.

"It's not his fault," William concluded. "Not entirely."

"What the hell do you mean it's not his fault!? He tried to kill you, he would have killed me!"

William glanced at the distraught slayer. "His dreams. Mister Giles, you mentioned a Ripper? Did he come to you in your dreams?"

"Y-yes."

"He told you to kill Buffy. He told you that she would end the world, and bring the destruction of Heaven, and such rot, didn't he?"

Giles nodded.

"Did he torture you?"

Another, more hesitant nod. "How do you… how do you know?" he asked dubiously.

"I've had them too."

"Wait, you two are dreaming about killing me?" Buffy barked.

"No," William said softly. "They aren't dreams where you're killed, they're dreams where we're told to kill you."

"Why the hell are you two are having these dreams without telling me?"

"Would you have trusted me if I told you?"

"Do you think I trust you because you didn't?" Buffy's eyes blazed a whole right through William's soul.

He looked away. "Rupert, you do realize that you can't be left to roam. You must be tied up until we can find out what's happening."

"And you?" Giles accused. "You've had the same dreams. Why should you be left free?"

"Yeah," Buffy said, "what about you?"

"I wouldn't hurt you. Unlike your friends, I have self-control, as well as a bloody brain," he growled. His demon pushed at the barriers of his subconscious.

"You didn't have control enough to tell me. Warn me. Why should I trust you?"

"Maybe I don't trust you," he snarled, his eyes glowing gold, his vision blurring red. "Since being drop here, on this horrid plain of reality, ripped out of Heaven, I've been hit, beaten, tortured, and they all have you in common. Maybe you instigate my suffering. Maybe you like it."

Buffy blanched, her lips quivering with the angry retorts that longed to cut him to size. "Get out," she said in a barely there voice.

"You didn't say that last night," snapped. "Actually, you practically ripped my clothes off. Hmm, I seem to have forgotten another bit of misery you've caused me."

"Get out, getout!" she screamed.

"I'm not done talking."

"I'm done listening. Get the hell out of my house."

"You think so highly of yourself. How could Spike think he loved you? A glutton for pain, I suppose. That, or maybe he really liked draggin' you into his bed."

Tears glossed Buffy's eyes and William felt his sight clear. His stomach muscles clenched at her tears, and his demon receded.

"Get out."

"God Buffy, I didn't mean—"

"Leave. Go away." A stray tear slipped down her cheek.

William looked around, seeing the angry eyes of Willow and Xander, and the satisfied smirk on Giles' face. He closed his eyes, clenched his fists and jerked his chin in a nod.

"I'm sorry," he said before turning and walking shamefully to the door. He lost control for just a minute, but it was long enough for the demon inside to ruin everything.

Buffy face contorted as she tried not to cry. Why was everything always so screwed up?

"Buffy," Willow said in a soft, antsy tone, "Dawn's missing."

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