The Long Dark Night of the Soul

by Maureen Wynn
Copyright © 1997

Standard disclaimers: Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the character Rupert Giles belong to Joss Whedon and the WB, I've just borrowed them temporarily, and promise to return them only slightly bruised. The brain belongs to Joss — I only have it out on loan. :-) Blah, blah, bitty blah, I'm so twisted, give me a Giles!

Rupert gradually swam up into consciousness. He lay where he was for some indeterminate time, trying, with an aching and very befuddled head, to figure out where he was. After some time, he was able to determine that he was lying on a floor.

For a while, that was enough — he knew he was alive and awake, and lying on a floor. Eventually, he braced himself and turned over, groaning with the effort and the pain. He lay on his back, blinking up at the ceiling. The blinking didn't hurt too badly, so he thought he'd try sitting up. He finally levered himself vertical, and held his head until the world stopped spinning, then continued up until he was on his feet. He stood, swaying, bracing himself against the wall. From this position, he could see the rest of the seedy room he stood in. Where am I?

He didn't think about this long, because from his upright position he could also see the bottle standing on the table in the corner. He thought a little scotch sounded like a really bad idea, which made it a rather good idea in his present condition, so he made it over to the table and reached for the bottle. Unfortunately, there was nothing left in it, and he slumped into one of the chairs at the table, staring at the empty bottle.

He knew there was something significant about the empty bottle, so he just sat, looking at the empty bottle of Scottish whiskey, waiting for enlightenment. That's right, he thought, I finished this last night. And then the horrid truth hit — this was his last bottle. He slumped against the table, unable to muster the strength to sit upright. He knew he'd have to get up eventually — he'd have to get up in order to go out and get another bottle. He sat there until the pounding in his head forced him to stand up — that may have been hours, but was more likely to have been minutes.

He arose — slowly, so as not to jostle his aching body and head too much — and picked up the leather jacket lying across the ragged sofa. He gingerly eased into it. Why am I hurting so much? He thought vaguely. I feel like I've been beaten. He stopped thinking about that — his mind didn't seem to want to examine that thought too closely. He moved toward the door, trying to zipper the jacket, and finally gave it up as impossible in his current state.

He left the room, and got down the stairs of the cheap boarding hotel without too much pain or difficulty. He found a package store easily — he seemed to know exactly where it was. He didn't think about that too closely, either. His mind didn't seem to want to think, but that was all right; he didn't need to think in order to drink. He selected a bottle, and brought it up to the front counter, bringing his wallet out of his hip pocket.

"That'll be two pounds ten," the counter man said. Rupert stared into his wallet. There was nothing there. Well, there were papers, and old receipts, and a crumpled business card, but no money.

"I don't suppose I could get that on credit, could I?" he asked hopefully, attempting a smile.

"You're bloody joking, mate!" the counter man said, disgusted, as he took the bottle off the counter and put it back on the shelf. He stared at Rupert, waiting for him to move on. Rupert sneered at him, and left the store.

He lay on the sagging bed with his eyes closed, hoping that he'd be able to fall asleep, but sleep wouldn't come. The only thing that came whenever he closed his eyes were disturbing visions. Dimness, with candles burning; pain and screaming. He opened his eyes and sat up — he didn't like seeing that. It made him think, and thinking was bad.

He got up from the bed and went to the small kitchenette. He filled a grimy glass at the sink, and sipped at the water, hoping it would make him feel better. It didn't, and abruptly he retched, and barely made it to the bathroom before heaving his guts out. Some indefinable time later, he leaned back and wiped his face off with the threadbare towel he found by the sink. If anything, he felt even worse now than he had before. Groaning, he got to his feet, and went back to the bed. Lying down, he fell asleep almost immediately.

He woke abruptly, screaming hoarsely. He sat up, panting heavily, covered with sweat, and tried to remember the dream that had scared him so badly. The flickering flames... and screaming... he shook his head. He didn't want to remember any more. He got up and started pacing. This room... where was he? He remembered dimly; he had rented this room several days ago. He had needed to get away from his apartment, and had picked a boarding hotel at random. And obviously in the worst part of town. He paced up and down the worn carpet, increasingly agitated. He couldn't remember, but he didn't want to — he knew that much. Remembering would be... bad. Painful. Unbearable. He beat his fists against his head, not wanting to think, not wanting to remember, but unable to stop himself without the booze to dull his thoughts.

He couldn't hold back the thoughts flooding into his mind, and trying to resist them was only making it worse. He sat down, resigned, and let the memories come. They washed over him, random, disjointed. The group, the... coven. That's what they were. Casting spells, old books with spells, chanting incantations, a pentagram... and something else. A symbol that wasn't a pentagram, but was a much stronger symbol of power. Then it came to him, a sudden memory like a punch in the gut: Eyghon. The demon.

He and Ethan had discovered the ancient rites of "The Sleepwalker", and had been intrigued by the possibilities. The group had called it up, together, reveling in the unparalleled power. He remembered the sheer overwhelming force of hosting the demon. And the pleasure... Rupert shuddered with pleasure and pain, remembering anew the incredible sensations, the raw sexuality the demon brought forth. The group, all together and separately. Orgy really was too tame a word to use — English didn't seem to contain an appropriate word. He could have easily spent his entire life as an unrepentant sensualist... if it weren't for what had happened.

He was finally starting to remember what had driven him here, what inevitably had to happen with that kind of power. He groaned, and leaned forward, bent almost in half, wrapping his arms around his knees, trying to control the pain of the memory. The memory of the coven's final gathering commingled disgustingly with the memories of previous meetings, with his earlier sexual arousal. He knew in a moment of sudden clarity that he'd never again be comfortable with that arousal, that he would always associate that feeling of pleasure with the horror of Randall's death.

For death was what it had come to. They had gotten cocky, and careless, and the demon had just been waiting for his chance to break free of his bonds. He had possessed Randall, and the coven had been unable to loose his grip. They had tried everything in their power, and the demon had just laughed at them. Laughed, and promised to kill them all — when he'd finished having his fun with them.

It had been Ethan who'd solved their problem. He'd always been much more interested in the occult than any of the others, and had gone much further in his practices than the rest of the coven. He'd led them in casting the spell, and swore that their combined power would be sufficient to drive the demon out of Randall. He'd been horribly wrong, and Randall had paid the price, burned to ash, screaming in pain, trapped inside the symbol of Eyghon.

Rupert would never be able to forgive himself for his part in that murder, for he could not rid himself of the idea that if he'd kept up his studies as a Watcher, he would have learned something that could have vanquished the demon without killing Randall. His rebellion against his destined role had cost his friend his life, and it was that thought, that memory, that had driven him to this extremity.

But it hadn't helped, for here he was, sober, and still he remembered. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. Through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault...

He wouldn't accept that, he couldn't. "It wasn't my fault!" he screamed, trying to convince himself with sheer volume that he wasn't to blame for the tragedy. "It wasn't..." he couldn't continue, as he dissolved into sobs. He knew he'd ultimately have to accept this burden of guilt. He was as much to blame — he was more to blame than the others, for he'd had a responsibility. One which he'd abdicated in order to seek excitement and pleasure, for which others had paid the ultimate price.

When he'd finally cried himself out, he lay on the floor where his paroxysm of grief and fear and pain had left him. He was almost amused to realize that he was in practically the same place and position where his drunken bout the previous evening had deposited him. He lay there for a very long time, remembering, and thinking. At last, he knew what he had to do, no matter how personally humiliating it might be. It was the only choice that gave any hope, however slight, for redeeming himself. At dawn, he wearily got up, and slowly went down the hall to the public phone. He dialled, hoping that the other party would accept the collect call. Finally, he was put through. After a pause, he said, "Father...? I'm ready to come back, if you'll have me..."

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