"To forgive is an act of compassion, Buffy. It's, it's not done because people deserve it. It's done because they need it."
Giles had just enough money hidden in the guitar case to pay for the train ticket to Somerset. The ticket-taker gave him a second and third look as he got on the train, case and rucksack in hand. Giles had left the flat in the clothes he’d been wearing for the ritual, how long ago now? Just last night. He found his poshest accent, stammered out something polite and absent-minded, and the fellow went away again, muttering about university students. Giles was left to curl in an empty seat and wonder when everything would start hurting again.
Lucky he, to be among the living, able to feel pain. The corpse on the floor of their living room, face down in the middle of the broken pentagram: Randall wouldn’t be minding anything. Unless the tales of hell were real. Giles supposed he would be minding it then. Not that Randall had believed in hell. He’d believed in karma. What would Randall come back as? Something lovely and bright, because he hadn’t deserved it. An opium poppy, perhaps. If one could come back as a plant. Giles wasn’t sure how it worked. A butterfly?
The city slid past the train. Giles cataloged it through grimy windows: Council houses, closed warehouses, graffiti, smut-stained brick walls. London’s sullen backside. He covered his eyes with a hand. Even filtered through the window the sunlight was too bright for him.
His mind was going round and round. Ethan had said he’d take care of it. Take care of it. He’d shot Deirdre up, enough to calm her down, no more. Then he’d told Giles and Deirdre to vanish from the flat for a while. Until the police and the medics had gone. Randall would be just another junkie overdosing, Ethan had said, with the edge of contempt in his voice that likely no one but Giles had heard. Giles had heard it before, and finally understood it. He’d walked out without another word to Ethan. He’d given his stash to Deirdre, who’d been stupidly grateful. He kept seeing it, the little bag, passing from his hand to hers. Randall. On the floor. Taken care of.
Giles fumbled in his jacket pockets and hit the numbers in the form of a half-empty packet of Players. Another search through rousted out a book of matches with a few left. Fold the book around the match, pull to strike. The flare and the wisp of smoke. Giles lit up and dropped the match to the train floor, still burning. Match under the spoon. Liquid heaven. Giles’s fingers curled, and he thrust his hand into his trouser pocket. He’d kicked once before, when Ethan had begged him to. Hadn’t taken, but he thought this time it would. He didn’t deserve to feel that good again, not ever again.
He inhaled, blew smoke out through his nose. It didn’t taste like anything but it gave his hands something to do besides shake.
He smoked a second standing at the station in Bath, waiting for the local train. It was three miles from the next station to the village where he’d grown up, where his parents still lived. Giles walked it, to give himself time to think.
The walk was longer than he’d remembered. He’d used to run this distance, for training. No running in these boots, all flash and pointed toe. He could already feel hot spots on his heels and sweat under his arms. He set his feet out of his mind and kept walking. What would he say? He hadn’t got beyond longing for his mother’s hand rumpling up his hair and her warm kiss on his forehead. A cup of tea, another kiss, and then he’d, then he’d do what? Perhaps he could tell his mother some part of the story. About Randall, at least. She might sympathize. Maybe his mother would take him in, give him a place to hide, until it was out of his blood. One night?
No. His father would never let her. And he ought not allow it. Got what he wanted, there, hadn’t he, and now he had the joy of it.
The air was clean and the wind freshening but warm. Summer was in full leaf around him. Giles huddled inside his jacket and kept his head down. The sunlight hurt. One foot in front of the other. Three miles to walk. Time enough to think through what he wanted.
One foot in front of the other, step after step, and none brought him any decisions. Giles found himself on his father’s land, on the gravel-strewn drive curving back around the trees. His boots were noisy on the gravel, silent on the grassy walk to the front door. No one answered his knock. No Rover pulled round front. Were they home? He still had a key, though the kitchen garden door was never locked. Would he let himself in if they weren’t home? It was not his home any more.
Giles went round to the side and through the garden to the kitchen door. He raised his hand and knocked again, harder this time. Silence. Birdsong from the fields. Wind in the grass.
He’d turned away when he heard rushing footsteps and the sound of the door banged open.
“Sorry, sorry, nearly didn’t hear your knock. What can I-- Oh.”
It was Giles’s father. He looked much as he had the last time Giles had seen him, at Christmas a year and a half ago, perhaps a little grayer. He seemed to fill the doorway. Giles took a step back even as his father moved out onto the stoop. His father slid his hands deep into his trouser pockets. Giles could see that his fists were balled.
“We haven’t seen you in some time.”
“What brings you here now?”
“I was hoping to see Mum,” Giles said.
His father shook his head. “She’s away.”
His father frowned. “South of France.”
Giles wanted to ask after her further, but the expression on his father’s face kept him silent.
“What was it you wanted?” his father said. “Your letter seemed rather final about your decision to be clear of us.”
“Yes, it was, I know. I just wanted–” Giles broke off. He felt the last of his hope drop away. He hadn’t realized he’d had any left. “Just wanted to talk with her. I, well, I, she’s not here, so.”
Giles kept his face as blank as he could and bent to pick up the guitar case again. He’d have to pawn it, had held onto it for the whole time only to lose it now. Three miles back to town, then he didn’t know. How much would it fetch? Sleep rough to stretch it out until he could think what to do. If he ought to do anything. There was always that way out. It would be fair. Justice for Randall.
One step back down the walk. Two.
Giles stopped, but didn’t turn around.
“Come in and have tea. Since you’ve come all this way.”
His father sounded almost apologetic. Giles turned, and found his father stepping back from the kitchen door, holding it wide open for him. Giles hesitated, then relented. He stepped past his father and inside the house. Into his mother’s kitchen.
He set the guitar and his rucksack on the floor by the door. He pulled off his leather jacket and after a moment of fuddling hung it over the back of the nearest chair. His father looked him up and down. His lips tightened, but he didn’t say anything. Giles could hear him say it anyway. He made a grand showing in his Friday night finery, jeans and gaudy purple shirt, the ironic cross dangling from his ear, all now draggled and stained in the light of the sunny kitchen. The jeans hung loose from his hips, held up only by the belt. When had he last eaten? Giles blinked. There were bloodstains on his left sleeve. He hadn’t seen them under the jacket. Randall’s blood? His own. Giles folded his arms to hide it.
His father turned away and busied himself with kettle and teapot on the ancient stove. Giles sat at the table. Broad, battered, had been needing a varnish for as long as he’d been alive. A year and a half he’d been away, and everything looked the same, exactly the same. It smelled the same. Kitchen spices and potpourri. The windows over the sink were pushed out wide, and Giles could see the open fields.
His father set a mug and a plate in front of him. Dark green stoneware, chipped at the lip. Family dishes, not company dishes. Giles wrapped his hands around the mug and breathed in. He wasn’t sure he could drink it, but the warmth felt good. The plate held a scone with jam. Giles couldn’t remember the last time he’d tasted jam. He wasn’t hungry, but he bit into it anyway. Strange to eat such a homely thing. He washed it down with tea and felt unwanted life trickle back into him.
His father topped up his mug. Giles looked up at him. He’d not touched his own cup. Giles sat silent, watching his father watch him. His father, to Giles’s surprise, flinched first. He sighed and looked away. Giles cleared his throat.
“What, ah-- what brings you here?”
Giles put his mug down, but couldn’t think how to answer. His father would sneer if he said he wanted a kiss from his mother.
“Last we heard you were with that friend of yours. Rayne.”
Giles addressed his answer to his mug. “I’ve broken off with Ethan. Last night.”
“Ought I to offer congratulations or commiserations?”
Giles managed a faint smile. His father had never known what to make of his friendship with Ethan. He didn’t know the half of it. Thank God. His smile died. He hid his face in his mug of tea again. It was sweet at the bottom, where the sugar had pooled. He tipped it up, to get all of it.
He rummaged in the pockets of his jacket and found the the packet of cigarettes. He pulled one out and lit up. His father raised an eyebrow but said nothing. Giles’s hands shook. He watched the tremors almost curiously. They seemed so disconnected from him, as if his hands belonged to someone else. If asked, he would be able to say exactly how many hours it had been since his last taste, and he hated himself for counting them.
He tipped ash onto his scone plate. His mother couldn’t abide smoking in her kitchen. He could imagine her cuffing his head, with no force at all, and telling him to give up that filthy habit. She’d have made him stand outside the door or smoke in his father’s study. He ought to think of some message to give her through his father. What could he say? Sorry about the last year and a half, Mum, off again now. Just his love to her, then.
His father sighed. He picked a spoon and fidgeted with it, and said, “All I can think is what your grandmother would have said, were she still with us.” Giles winced, but his father shook his head. “To me, I mean. She’d have called me a bloody fool about you yet again. I knew when you visited us that Christmas that you were in a bad way.”
Giles hadn’t expected that. He hadn’t thought anyone had noticed. He’d lasted two short months past the holidays.
“Your mother said you’d told her it was just a bad breakup. By the time I realized otherwise, when young Robson came to us with your things, it was too late.”
Giles stared at his father’s hands, resting flat on the table. His mind was a blank. Had he had a breakup just then? He couldn’t remember. He could not remember a single thing he’d been doing that winter. He’d had no time to do anything but study, anyway-- relationships had been impossible.
“Wasn’t a breakup,” he said.
“I know. I know what it was. Went through something like it myself.”
Giles stubbed out the remains of the cigarette on his plate, in the mess of jam and crumbs and cigarette ash. His own mess. His stomach had gone strange and he was sorry he’d eaten anything. He wondered what his father meant, about going through it himself. Giles couldn’t imagine him going off the rails about anything. Controlled and sardonic, distant and prickly, that was his father. Never had a weak moment in his life. Never mucked anything up.
“I know I’m not your mother,” his father said, slowly, as if he were picking his way through a minefield. “But perhaps you might give me a try.”
And that sounded sincere. Giles had no idea what to say now that the moment was on him. He couldn’t imagine telling his father what Randall was to him. Had been. His father’s face was serious. Anxious, even. The minefield still lay between them; Giles ought to meet him halfway. His throat had closed up and his jaw was aching, but he made himself find the words.
“A, a friend died last night. I couldn’t bear it any more. The things we were, we were-- I had to leave.”
“I’m sorry,” his father said, and Giles heard nothing but sympathy in his voice though he was quivering with fear that he’d hear more. Contempt. Disgust. Perhaps he would hear them yet, if he let slip the rest.
The dancing around was making him sick. His mind had nearly stopped functioning. Waves of chill were running over his skin already. His stomach felt bad, very bad, and bile rose in his throat. He swallowed and swallowed again.
He flung himself out of his chair to the sink, but even so he nearly wasn’t in time. Milky tea, scone, bile. Dry heaves to follow, until finally his stomach decided it was empty. Giles slumped over the sink, breathing. He was well into it, then. He ran water, caught it in his hands, and rinsed out his mouth. He rolled up his sleeves and scrubbed his face and hands, over and over until they were raw, until at last his father shut off the water and turned him away from the sink.
“You’re ill,” he said. “I’ll call a doctor.”
“No. No doctors. It’s not-- It’s not that.”
“Is it magic?”
His father’s lips had pressed together in disapproval. Giles almost wanted to laugh. Same as it ever was, brace for another lecture, another litany of things he’d done wrong. He found he didn’t care any more. If he was going to top himself as soon as he could get away, what did it matter?
Giles turned to face his father full on, and held up his arms to him. Giles watched his father’s face, intent on him. So strange. Puzzled, but calm. Then his father’s hand clamped around his wrist, shockingly strong, and Giles felt himself twisted around so his arm was in the light. His father shoved his sleeve further up. Pinpricks on the right elbow, some scabbed over, some fresh. On the left, more pinpricks. And the tattoo.
“Rupert–” his father said, then he seemed not to know what to say next. He let go of Giles’s arm, and Giles turned away. He rolled his sleeves down and buttoned the cuffs.
His father paced across the kitchen and then back, fists deep in pockets. Giles watched, waiting for the explosion. He could see the anger in his father’s shoulders, in the set of his jaw, in the way he stood foursquare before Giles, looming over him.
Giles was angry himself now. “Nothing I can say would make you understand.”
“Never felt good in my life until that. Nothing compares. Not sex, not magic, not playing the guitar. Nothing.”
“Rupert, God, I–”
“It’s over. That’s why I’m here. It’s all over.”
He clamped a hand over the inside of his elbow. Randall’s dark hands on the syringe, Randall’s soft voice talking him through his fears, telling him how good he’d feel, the needle popping the vein, the blood rising. Ethan’s hands on that steel spike, driving it into his skin, driving in the ink, Ethan’s voice telling him it would be marvelous, how he’d forget the drugs in favor of this. The rush, so much better than sex, then the lull. Dreaming, in perfect peace, wanting nothing at all, nothing more than the warmth in his veins, pure quiet pleasure. Head spinning, body somewhere else, sleep and dreams and the warmth in his veins, the warmth all over, so good, such peace. Time to sleep. Sleep and never wake.
His anger fled and left him shaking. Less than twenty-four hours Randall had been dead. Less than a day since he’d stood in that room, cross in hand, and looked down at what he’d done. Now he knew when everything would start to hurt again. His very bones hurt now, aching for what he’d never have again. He’d never feel good again, never again, but that was nothing more than what he deserved.
He watched his father pace, back and forth across the kitchen. He didn’t seem to be angry any more, just very far away. His father came to rest in front of him.
“I’ve been a poor sort of father to you, I’m afraid.”
“No argument. Your grandmother had it right, and that’s the end of it.”
Giles touched himself on his chest, where it hurt most. It was nobody’s fault but his own, no matter what his father said. He was grateful his grandmother wasn’t with them still, to have seen him like this. He’d imagined his father’s disapproval often, during those months away, and been delighted by the thought every time. But he couldn’t have borne the shame of her disappointment. Could hardly bear the mere idea of it now. He’d never be able to face Ethan again, either.
“You don’t understand. I’ve done worse than that. I’ll tell you then I’ll leave. You needn’t throw me out. I’ll go.”
His father nodded, slowly. “Tell me.”
“Pater,” Giles said, then faltered, unsure he had the right to use the name. But his father said nothing but reached out a hand. Giles took it and his father clasped tight. “I killed my, my, my best mate.” Lover, he’d been about to say, but he didn’t want to fling it in his father’s face.
His eyes burned. He tightened his jaw and fought it down. If he started he’d never stop, and damned if he was going to in front of his father. “No,” he said.
“How?” Still calm, his father was, though Giles was breathing as if he’d sprinted a mile. His father’s hand was under his elbow now, holding him up.
“He let it take him. The demon. Maybe he was high. Maybe he was sloppy, can’t tell. I think he was high. We’d just scored and he couldn’t wait. Ethan was always after us not to, but Ran, it had been three days and Ran was hurting.” Like he was now, like he’d always be hurting.
“The demon. Rupert. What demon?”
“It possessed him. None of the others knew what to do. So I exorcised it. I did it. And at the end he was dead.”
Dead. Giles saw him again with the demon in his face. Saw his squalid flat, smoke-dimmed from incense and pot and cigarettes, the ash-stained carpet rolled back to show the lines Giles and Ethan had painted on the bare floor. Candles guttered at the five points, in mounds of warm wax. And Randall sprawled face-down across it all. Not breathing. Philip turning him over, feeling for a pulse. Randall’s lovely face, his dark eyes human again, blood streaming out of his nose. But Giles knew. Had felt the moment his soul had left him, hard on the heels of the demon. Had known the blood was on his hands.
He tried to tug himself away but his father wouldn’t let go.
“Rupert. This is important. Did the exorcism work?”
“He’s dead. He died. When I said the last words he died.”
The tension in his father’s face eased. “It worked.”
“God.” Giles closed his eyes. He’d held out hope it was the drugs, or shock, or a weak heart. Now he knew it was truly his fault. “Oh, God, I killed him.”
“It wasn’t you. It was the demon. You did the right thing–”
“You don’t understand. The mark on my arm. It’s the demon’s mark. We summoned it. We let it own us. Time and time again. I summoned it. I showed them how. It’s my fault. My fault, and now he’s gone. I sold myself to it. Sold myself and sold him too and now he’s dead.”
Giles turned away from his father and bent over the sink again. He bit his fist and tried to choke it all back, tried not to make a worse fool of himself in front of his father, who had no patience with him when he cried.
Giles felt a handkerchief pressed into his hand. He wiped his nose and got something resembling command of himself again. Though he still felt like death, with waves of hot and cold chasing across his skin and an ache in his bones. They felt like they were melting inside him. My strength faileth me, because of mine iniquity, and my bones are consumed. Giles wondered if any God would have mercy on somebody who’d sold his body to a demon.
“Come with me, my boy,” his father said, in a voice Giles hadn’t heard from him in years, not since he was a tiny boy. “Some fresh air would do you good.”
His father took his arm, gently, and guided him out through the kitchen door. Giles let himself lean on his father’s strong arm, as if he were an invalid. His father led him slowly around back, behind the stables to the pastures beyond. He opened a gate, held it for Giles, then closed it behind them. He ran his arm through Giles’s again. So solid, so strong, as his father had always been. Giles didn’t want to lean on him, but his father wasn’t giving him a choice.
They didn’t go far, just to the top of the nearest hillock, where his father had set a flattened-off log. Giles sat down carefully and braced himself up with both hands flat beside him. The wood was warm under him, and the sun warm on his face, but it didn’t soak in. His father settled down next to him, close enough that Giles could smell the scent that for as long as he could remember meant his father, horses and bay rum and the faintest whiff of pipe smoke. The sun was too bright for him yet, and he squeezed his eyes shut.
They sat for some time on the log, side by side and silent. Eventually his father shifted. Giles looked at him sidelong.
“Don’t want to hear any nonsense about you leaving. You need a place to recuperate, and I’ll be damned if you do it anywhere but home.”
Giles blinked and looked away. So bloody typical of him, to announce a marvelous great kindness under cover of a burst of irritation. “Thanks. I-- Thanks.”
“Don’t want to hear any of that, either,” his father said, half-muttering. Giles almost wanted to smile. “See if you thank me after a month of mucking out the stables. Once you’re fit for it.”
Giles wondered what had happened with his father, that he’d said he’d understood it when Giles had run off. He remembered a night, four years gone now, when his father had come home alone from a hunting trip to the continent. Alone, a week late, and looking a decade older. He’d never spoken about it to any of them. Giles had cried in secret over little Anna, who’d never come back. What did Slayers come back as, in their next lives? They wouldn’t. Nirvana for them. Or heaven, if they wanted.
“Pater.” Giles hesitated, on the verge of asking then thought better of it.
He pulled his feet up onto the log and wrapped his arms around his knees. Carefully, because it hurt to move. But the sun didn’t feel so painfully bright any more. He raised his head and looked where his father was gazing, toward the field below them. It lay fallow this year, and wildflowers had run riot over it. Giles watched a butterfly alight upon a knapweed, pause, and flutter off.