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Ghost in the Machine Part 33

Title: Ghost in the Machine

Author: josie_h

Pairing: Xander/Spike
Rating: Mature Audiences – for content and themes later on - ie M/M
Summary: Post Black Thorn and final AtS - The PtBs screw with Spike yet again.
Spoilers: Canon is Post S7 BtVS and S5 AtS.
Warnings: M/M – if you don’t like boys together, don’t play here!
Author’s Note: Don’t own the characters nor make any money from stories etc, and bow down to their original creators
Joss, et al., plus all the wonderful online writers who continue to give the Buffy/Angel verse characters life.
Previous parts here


Part 33

Giles parked the car in front of the main coven building, took off his glasses and polished them hard in nervous manner, then swung the string attached to the ancient brass doorbell. It seemed to ring inordinately loud, but resulted in a rather shy young wiccan ushering him into the Mistress’s study.

He stood at the door politely for a moment before Rhiannon indicated a seat opposite her desk. “Please Mr Giles, close the door and take a seat.”

The conversation with the Mistress Rhiannon was initially very strained, but swiftly became a confession of his ‘sins’ of sorts as he began to explain his recent dealings with Wolfram and Hart, Sarah, the Council, and all that went between, stressing his initial motivations.

The Mistress sat quietly listening, and observing the older man seeking any measure of deceit. With the room warded and (as even Giles felt) the truth spell in place, there were a few simple questions as his monologue ended.

“We had some wind of your movements, and indeed, your ‘other’ employer. I can see that you were seduced by the dark powers, and not for the first time… of that I am confident.”

Giles pulled his glasses off and polished them profusely and while looking down at the spectacles in his hand said quietly, “Indeed. But I did not wish nor anticipate harm to come from my actions, and should have been more discerning, particularly given my age and experience.”

“It also seems you have endangered some of your friends who are members of our coven Mr Giles. Why come to us now? Is it absolution you seek? If that is the case then Gaia or the Powers are a better solace and in appealing, you will need to be forthcoming with pure motive.”

Giles felt strangely like he was back explaining to Buffy why he had followed Council orders and had her threatened. “I will do so of course. But I have two other requests.”

“And those would be?”

“I wish to speak to Xander and if possible convey the same to Mistress Willow explaining my… interest in Xander’s activities of late. I wish to explain my recent associations and actions… and request… his forgiveness before… Mistress, I am here to beg of you to assist in my physical change for all time so I might serve the coven in a different guise, without risk to anyone.

“I have the spell but cannot do it without a magical boost. One that I know will probably need to be made in a different location for safety sake. The spell will mean I live out my life as barn owl, at your coven if you so permit, with no chance of return to humanity and so I may never be *used* again by the powers of darkness.” Giles looked at the Mistress, begging her to understand, “ I cannot countenance continuing as I am, and the only other option is, I am sad to admit, oblivion.”

The Mistress stared into the aging Watcher’s eyes for a time, noted the blue glow overhead indicating his truth and resolve then quietly answered, “Until you have made your peace with the Universe in all its guises, we cannot act. I will arrange for you to stay at a safe house in the village near here where you may make your peace with Gaia and the Powers. But as you have surmised, we cannot invoke such a spell on coven grounds. It would bring attention, so must be in a secure and warded environment as provided by the place I am about to suggest.

“There is a small natural forest twenty kilometers or so south of here with a sanctified copse. At midnight tonight or at least within the darkness of the night, and should you have satisfied Gaia and the Powers as required, we will invoke the spell as suggested, though I would ask that you provide the text of the spell for review prior to that time. As Mistress of this coven, I also agree to your request that you may have some time with Xander but only on the grounds that penance to the necessary powers be accepted. Sadly though, Willow is currently away attending another coven. You must also note - if penance is delayed and the spell invoked late, then I am sad to say, any contact with Xander or Willow will only *after* the spell, as neither can be involved at the copse.”

It was the first time Giles felt near panicked since speaking to Lilah and making his final decision.

He fell to his knees in front of the aged wiccan, “Mistress, if the latter is the case then they will never know my reasons or feelings for them! I participated in this whole debacle for a reason I thought valid yet now know, in a sense particularly betrayed Xander – a boy I considered as the son I never had… *Please* if penance is allowed/accepted then I will change and if not, will accept death upon the invocation of the spell as I know that will be the outcome. Mistress, if as you suggest, there may be no time, *at least* permit me to provide a message of regret regarding my associations and actions of late to Xander.”

The Mistress stood with grace, stroked the upset older man’s shoulders and lowered head, gently raised him back onto his chair then said in almost a whisper, “After you make your peace as required, I will know. If all is well then a final visit to Xander in your current form will be accepted this afternoon. I will speak to Xander this morning of the arrangements and your reasons prior to any contact as he will need to be reassured of your truth and wishes. We at the coven are clear that he has reasons to fear the recent actions of the Wolf, Ram and Hart and your involvement. He still has need for assistance and protection by the coven.” Rhiannon placed two pieces of exquisite parchment and a fountain pen in front of Giles and he gave a rather puzzled and tearful look to her.

“Assuming all is well after your change, I will still be able to fully commune with your form and convey your thoughts as needed. So… and for expediency and no ‘paper trail’… write down the spell for us to examine, and on the other a letter to a trusted member of your Watchers’ Council warning them of the Wolfram and Hart connections, also indicate that by the time they receive the letter by mail you will have sacrificed your human life as a direct consequence of your actions. This will not be a lie. Your car will be found just south of the QEII Bridge on the Thames, London – we will see to that - and your human body will sadly, never be found.”

Giles looked up at the last statement, “How stupid of me! In my panic, I hadn’t considered… My Will indicates all I have passes to the Council upon my death, Jenkins knew my wishes.”

“Then it is agreed. I will make the arrangements and you must go and make your appeals.” The Mistress wrote the address of the safe house and handed it to Giles. “This is the location of the house. If all goes well, you will see Xander this afternoon and we will invoke the spell at midnight tonight.”

Giles swiftly wrote out the spell, hoping it would be all in order, then completed the letter to the Watchers’ Council. He then stood, thanked the Mistress and took his leave.
………………………..

The Mistress immediately departed for the workshop, only to find that Xander had had a late start and was only just beginning to hand sand the new sculpture. He paused and when the Mistress looking pointedly at Matti who left immediately, Xander came to a very worried stop.

It was just the moment Spike chose to enter the workspace with two cups of tea in hand and noted the tension and his lover’s raised heart rate (demon hearing still a plus). “Trouble at mill??”

The Mistress turn to Spike with a wan smile, then back to Xander, “I have news... it concerns Giles.”

Xander’s breath hitched for a moment, but it was Spike who answered. He had observed the car earlier, “OK… What’s the old traitorous fool plannin’ to do to us now - he and his she bitch master, Lilah?!”

The Mistress staid him with a stern look, “William, please. He is… he wants to meet with Xander… AND! before you protest, his motives are pure, and his intentions, though extreme, are the same.”

Her following frank and succinct explanation saw Spike racing to his lover’s side and taking him in a tight hug as the larger brunette’s legs almost gave out.

There was a long silence following the Mistress’ speech. Then a hitched breath from Xander and soft, “How?... And if? But if not? Mistress he still intends to take his own human life? But that…”

“My dear Xander, if all goes well he will be in our presence for many years to come - changed admittedly, but here. And before the change, should his penance be accepted in the time we need, he wishes to speak with you human to human… for the last time. My only reason for coming to you this morning is to ask if you consent to such a meeting.”
………………………….
The trip to the village was simple, the admittance to the safe house eased by the Mistress’s phone call in advance and Giles ushered to the small but pretty room of the B&B. The hostess was polite but seemed to give a knowing smile as Giles deposited his travel bag inside the door and accepted the key.

He had the foresight to open the window of his small room, stripped his clothes and knelt in the middle the room. He knelt in the center of the room and began to chant in ancient Sumerian as the Mistress had suggested, a plea for forgiveness and acceptance, and a promise of his service, he then repeated it in Latin and Celtic, then Norse for good measure.

There was a white flash then a swirl of energy and Giles was driven to fall and brace on all fours, still repeating the chants. The pressure on his chest began to make it difficult to breathe and his left arm ache, so he feared the worst. He fell to his side, curled into a fetal position and in the last moments he remained conscious thought, if he were to die of a heart attack in this process, almost with relief, then so be it. The coven would still be safe.

It seemed a strange dream with flashes of his past, good and bad, old and recent, but one that seemed to eventually bring warmth. He awoke shivering, not with cold but with emotion and a clear idea of the blessing he had been given and what he next needed to do. He rolled to his previous kneeling position and then crawled to the single bed in the room, eased himself up and collapsed to rest for a time.

The Mistress felt the jolt around luncheon time at the coven and knew Giles had done as promised, sending her own blessing to add to the white energy and hoping he would be well enough to continue with his decision. A very shaky Giles rang the coven

It was late afternoon when a very shaky Giles stumbled from his car and once again rang the coven’s front door bell. This time he was met by the Mistress herself.

“I felt it and it is so. We shall continue the transformation tonight. You will leave your car and belongings here for disposal anon. Matti will transport you to the copse tonight in one of our vehicles. Your letter to the Watchers will be sent tonight and car deposited as promised on the morrow.”

As she took his arm, leading (or more supporting him) as he struggled down the path as an invalid might, toward Xander’s workshop, Rhiannon spoke softly, “Xander has been briefed and has agreed to your visit. I will reassure him of your resolve and the forgiveness you have been granted. You have but an hour or so, then I would advise he return you to the coven to eat and have rest. You will need all your strength tonight.”

…………………………..

Xander was alerted to the progress of the two visitors by Spike who was sitting on a stool in the workshop reading. The human/vampire made a quick exit dragging Matti with him, growling “This one’s private.”

Matti was about to protest as he was pulled through the front door of Xander’s abode, but was promptly pulled toward the kitchen, handed a cold beer and stilled by the words, “Let’s just ride this one out yeah? For Xan.”

It was only two in the afternoon, but they clinked bottles in a rather mute toast to what might come, and settled in silence on the couch.

The conversation between Giles and Xander was a private one, and though Spike could feel the emotions through their link, found himself choosing to focus on some inane television show for the ensuing hour, reluctantly conveying only the minimum of the past history of the two to his current beer buddy, the ‘Cliff notes’ would suffice.

Spike knew the moment it was over and sent as much love as he could manifest as Xander slowly walked the older man back toward the coven. Matti left in the direction of the workshop only a few minutes later, he had a sculpture to oil.

Later that evening Spike held still rather distraught lover who had worked a little too hard. He had prepared a risotto dinner, followed by a comfort exchange (only) of blood. He then took Xander’s hand and pulled him to their shared bed, took the rather strung out man by mouth, and as they both lay together voiced the possibly positive implications of the drastic decision that was not theirs to make, nor one the Mistress would let them participate in.

…………….

After Matti stopped the four wheel drive and let the now nude (but for a small towel) Watcher out, Giles approached the copse cautiously.

It appeared for all purposes to be utterly silent and devoid of life. Still, Giles made his way independently and with resolve to the centre of the circle of small oak branches as instructed.

This was to be a spell to be invoked by Giles himself, apparently with the boost provided by the attending wiccans from the coven (and later he was to learn… remotely by his dear Willow ‘and friend’). It was ten minutes of kneeling, he knew as his wrist watch lay outside the circle and continued to keep time.

The chanting by all coven wiccans involved began on the mark of midnight, Greenwich time. Rupert Giles barely finished the last sentence of his invocation before convinced all had gone awry.

He gasped for air that seemed not to be forthcoming, then attempted grab at his chest in the next move but his arms seemed unwilling to move. Next his back arched almost to the point of breaking, tail bones attempting to make themselves known, and every internal organ became agony incarnate.

He passed out for the second time that day, leaving him in blissful unconsciousness for the ultimate changes.

Bones began to shatter and alter their makeup; his external shape changed with uncanny speed; and after all was done, his size suddenly reduced according to Gaia and the dictates of his new form.

He regained consciousness around an hour later with the horrible thought that it may have all been for nothing.

Saddened but resigned as he wondered if he was in purgatory, he was still rather disorientated. All seemed so large and foreign. Then he stopped, reassessed, and wondered. Then with awe, began to move.

There was a moment of sheer panic as he attempted to stand as legs now articulated differently and supported a different body. When he attempted to brace himself and understand, the lack of hands, indeed arms caused a definite flurry of feathers… and as a consequence, he fell painfully onto forehead that now included bumping his beak(!) in the process.

It took Giles the next hour or so to really come to terms with the change.

Experimenting with his new appendages; trying to connect with the instinct of the body he now inhabited; and trying to contemplate the rather thrilling and terrifying concept of *flying*. As he stretched and tested silent wings (though still did not try to take off), he wondered belatedly if a hedgehog might not have been a better option as choice of wild fauna for his change!

Despite his trepidation, in the end he gave in to instinct, perched carefully on a fallen log in the clearing on the outskirts of the copse, flapped once or twice, then silently launched himself into the night - his destination, the coven.

His human consciousness was still present, but just as he might have hoped, his form was natural, and magical signature rather than Watcher, now that of at most, a mage’s pet owl. And his physical appearance, ironically looked like he *still* wore glasses though night vision would argue otherwise.

To his protagonists at Wolfram and Hart, and all others he had known, Rupert Giles was no more. In his stead, however, as the members of his inner circle knew, was something he had so recently begged for - a form that still held his memories and hopes; his loyalties and determination; and a renewed commitment to Gaia as he was now, truly, one of her night creatures.

……………………

Lilah was both livid and somewhat relieved that the old Watcher had apparently dispatched himself (saving her the effort). Although she was annoyed he had not delivered some sort of final weekly report on the sculpture. In the end, she decided to cut her losses.

His car had been found. Her sources informed her of the suicide/Will note to the Watchers’ Council, and she resolved recruit more ‘malleable’ and committed subjects in future. Her solace being that the sculpture of Drusilla was apparently almost completed. Once the transfer of the essence occurred she would reap a rich reward.

………………………..

Giles preferred the hayshed compelled to find a perch just pre dawn. It was warm and the smells fresh. From there he could hear Xander’s work shed in action. It was a little noisy at times, but he enjoyed listening to the apparent happy camaraderie between Xander and all who worked there on and off, his new sleep patterns dictated he snooze during the day.

…………………………….

A week or so after Giles’ change, Xander still required a special reassurance from the Mistress and Willow that there was ‘no going back’ to the Council or W&H, so Xander decided to introduce the newly made owl to the love of his life, William… aka Spike.

The two had been told by the Mistress that this was Giles’ new abode of choice so they chose a early evening time to visit, and Giles was still waking up properly, but nearly fell off his daytime perch high in the rear hay shed next to Xander’s workshop as the two entered.

The visage may not have been Billy Idol white hair or vampire pale, but the face and physique was unmistakable.

Spike was standing hand in hand with Xander in full sunshine at the door of the workshop and stared up smiling to the newly made raptor before Xander held up his thick leather, work gloved arm. It was an invitation, and landing place.

He waited for a rather stunned Giles to take the hint before he swooped silently, grabbed the leather with sharp talons and settled. As soon as he did, both men gently stroked the soft feathers in a form of welcome. Xander smiled sadly at the bird but it was Spike who brightened the moment and spoke first, Giles not failing to notice that Xander’s ‘free’ hand was firmly placed on the small of Spike’s back

“So… guess we’re all a little changed hey Watcher. But can’t all be bad… I’ve got the boy and the sun.. and figure you’ll find the dark familiar. Isn’t all that bad is it, and hunting? Me? Can’t properly sort that anymore - so envy you that one. Wanted you to know though, Pet, it comes winter? Xan and I have some high rafters and a nice fire… and I could use some company when our famous sculptor here works his 24/7. Plenty of readin’ matter and there’s a telly.”

The owl hooted rather sadly, dropped his head and rubbed his beak over the gloved hand of the kind sculptor and previous Scoobie, then made a point of touching his feathered forehead to Spike’s unshielded offered one. Spike was rather emotional at that but bent close to the new raptor and continued, “C’mon, you’ll be fine. Keep connected with those Watcher memories, and the Ripper – know the Mistress reckons they’ll come in right handy.”

Strangely the reassurance was missed by a rather emotional Xander, but Giles cocked his head pointedly and stared at Spike, apparently looking for the truth of the statements. Satisfied in the truth, he then took off from his temporary human perch without warning and flew from the barn and up into the night.
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