Chapter Rating: PG13
There was something about the moment that demanded a grand entrance, all
deliberate steps and returning prodigal sons and daughters. The door thrown
open for them before they made it up the walk, and then the patriarch would be
standing there to thank them for returning to their purpose.
It was a damned shame about the sun.
"They said there was a tarp somewhere in here," Anya said as she searched
through the various bins scattered throughout the van. Spike just sighed,
raked a hand through his hair yet again, and watched her ass wiggle back and
forth as she bent over in search. There was something absurd about the
situation: stuck staring at a friend's behind while he was trapped ten feet
from the house of the rapidly fading woman he loved.
A voice calling out to them broke the demons out of their hunt; the surprise
made Anya bump her head on the container lid. Nonetheless, a smile broke out
across her face as she worked her way to the front door and waved at Giles
through the window. He gave them the slightest of smiles, then held up a
Well, Spike thought as Anya passed it back. Looks like they had gotten a
shadow of a welcome, at least. He moved it into position, making sure his
hands were wrapped as well--there was a mistake you only made once--and called
for her to open the back doors.
It was a short dash from the van to the kitchen, but he could still feel the
heat of the sun pulling at his flesh. It seemed all the angrier from having
been blocked, and the thought of it making his skin sear and tear apart with a
vengeance put an extra bit of speed behind him. At the moment, he wouldn't be
amiss to Seattle's oppressive clouds.
By the time he'd finished stomping out the smoldering areas on the kitchen
floor, the others were making their hellos.
"I'm so glad to see you, Rupert," Anya said as she threw her arms around the
surprised man. He looked at her oddly; she just squeezed tighter.
"I'm glad to see you, too," he finally said, but extracted himself as he did.
"But we should save the reunion until we've dealt with what has happened." He
looked down; when he finally raised his gaze, it was directed at both newcomers
with equal strength. "We could have used your help earlier."
Anya's face crumpled at the castigation, a change from everyone else she'd
stood up to. Spike just looked offended. "Oh, right," he shot back. "Because
you'd know about coming back and trying to pick up the pieces you left
Giles' jaw tensed, only to relax when he barked out a short laugh. "You're
right. I was an idiot to leave."
"You shot her," Spike said in a lower voice. "You come back and shoot her
like... like a bloody animal."
"Like I said," Giles said with little more than a raised eyebrow. "We could
have used your help earlier. Watcher training does not include how to overcome
Slayer strength; tranquilizer guns will have to suffice. Now that you're here--
both here, perhaps, I don't know how strong you are now, Anya--I'll be able to
focus my efforts on those areas I actually have skill in."
"Hired muscle." Spike gave him a smile entirely without humor. "Suppose that
is why you dragged me back... learned by now that's all you lot ever wanted
The expression he got in return was filled with just as much controlled
blandness. "If you didn't listen to what I said on the phone, then perhaps I
shouldn't expect any more."
"You said I'd either come scurrying back, or that I wasn't worth the scrapings
left on the porch."
Giles sighed, shook his head, and passed over a mug full of lukewarm blood.
"Sorry, thought you'd be here earlier. Spike, I told you that you'd have my
trust if you came back."
"Had my reasons for leaving, you know."
"I don't doubt it. I assume they are what have kept you from running up the
stairs and instead have you here, sipping from one of Joyce's mugs."
Spike ran his thumb over the glazed form. That's right, she'd made this.
During some conversation about Passions or amphorae or whatever they wound up
chatting about, she'd mentioned how she'd gotten into pottery for a few months.
From what he knew about her, he figured it was a way to physically get away
from a husband she'd already emotionally pulled away from.
A vampire should not know this much about the leisure activities of a much
beloved single mother.
"Good reasons. Was ready to write this town off, you know. Packed up, never
looking back. They teach you in Watcher school to discount all that? Tell
someone they're worthless if they don't shine their boots quite as nice as
Giles stopped to pour himself a cuppa, then filled another for Anya when she
smiled at him. She'd been watching the exchange with the intense interest of a
spectator at Wimbledon. "They taught us to discount very little. They also
taught us to do whatever is required to obtain a goal. And you are indeed
Spike slammed back the rest of his blood before a short laugh bubbled free.
That earned him a startled look from the other two kitchen occupants, which
only increased the similarity. "You two," he explained to the pragmatic duo.
"You make quite the pair."
Now that earned a peculiar look from ol' Ripper. He filed that away for
later, when his brain was able to function in more than second gear. Right,
then. Being in this house and knowing she was up there had him near to pacing.
He hated pacing, at least in front of people. People who weren't Anya. It
just made him feel even more like an exhibit in a zoo.
"So. Up we go."
Giles nodded, slamming back his own drink as well. The startled look it
earned proved that the man was more distracted than he was letting on; his
tongue would be smarting for hours. "Call me if you need me," Anya said as he
retrieved a drink of cold water. "Well, it'd probably be more of an
afterwards thing, but you know. Unless you want me to come up with you-"
Spike had already taken to the stairs. Anya's helpful prattling had slid off
him unheard. Only the oppressive silence in his ears seemed to resonate. Were
he human, he'd at least have the comfort of having his panicked heartbeat there
instead of this nothing. After a few steps, a different sound finally did cut
through. He stopped and sighed. "Following me?"
"Buffy is... she has wrapped her Slayer identity around her like armor. It's
how she coped with everything that occurred." He could hear Giles hefting the
tranquilizer gun. "It's why she can want to go out and patrol every night,
even on a broken leg. If she reacts from that angle... I can't say that she
will be able to perceive you as anything but a vampire."
"Well," Spike began as he slowly turned to face his temporary father, "that
wouldn't be any different from before, then, would it?"
He'd started walking back up the stairs before Giles responded. "I'm not to
where I imagine you hope I would be, Spike. But my opinion of you has changed.
It's not out of the question that hers would, as well. Nor that mine won't
"Or that it will at all."
Giles was taken aback by how easily that answer fell from him. "You certainly
seem... fatalistic. I can't say I expected that." Nor was he happy about it,
that much was obvious. He wanted an idealist. Well, Spike had become friends
with a realist. It certainly took the edge off the worst of the surprise lows
to look at things how she would.
"Unexpected... that's me all over." He gave Giles his best attempt at a
smirk, to show him some doppleganger wasn't walking up the stairs. His
determination hadn't faded; he'd give it the old college try and make sure he
was ground into dust before he let her fall all the way. Acknowledging that
might be exactly what happened just gave a strange sort of dark comfort.
When his hand found its way onto the doorknob, the cold metal of the gun's
shaft pressed against his arm. Spike ground his teeth. "Do you want to spook
her? How often have you used the damned thing on her?"
"Only when it's been required to keep her away from patrols she wouldn't
return from. I do not enjoy shooting my Slayer full of drugs." The metal slid
away, but Giles stayed just as close. "Be ready, then. It will do no one any
good if you're staked within a foot of the door."
Once, he would have let her stake him if he had the slightest inkling it would
have brightened her day. Now... well, he might still be ready to die for her,
but it wouldn't happen without a fight. Even if that fight had to be with
Buffy. Probably a good thing her leg was bound up. "Right," he said. "Just
be ready." And he opened the door.
Before, Buffy had looked fragile. Now she just looked brittle. Seeing it
struck a blow to his heart as surely as a sharpened branch.
She was sitting in front of the window. A casual glance would have said that
the tiny girl before them was staring out at the street below. To do that, the
shades would have had to been pulled open. Only tiny points ran up the length
of the blinds, showing where the cords ran but barely doing more than freckling
her face with pale morning light.
"It's day," she said without turning around more than a few inches. "I lost
another night. I can't just stay in here and-"
Her roots were showing. The flat brown had turned into a jagged stripe a
hand's width along the part. That shook him as much as seeing dusky circles
under her eyes that looked all the worse against skin that had faded from its
normal sun drenched gold.
She could dress in a sackcloth and ashes, for all he cared. Those tiny,
deceptively frail limbs could be draped in layers of wool or linen, not showing
the figure that her calling had carved out of a silly, innocent girl. But she
would never want to do that. Buffy was too vain to let that happen, and on
her, it was charming. She would never let herself go for so long as to let the
unnatural gold of her hair become so very obvious for a forgery.
But she had. This wasn't the girl he'd known.
From the look in her eyes as she finally met his, she didn't know him, either.
* * * * *
Giles watched the pair. Neither moved, not even to blink. Were it not for a
second look, he'd have thought his Slayer had stopped breathing to match the
vampire. The moment hung heavy in the air, and he knew not who would be the
one to shatter it.
As it turned out, it was Xander.
The sound of the front door slamming open jarred Giles out of his silence.
"Bloody hell," he swore just under his breath. This was not the time for this;
this was the exact time for anything besides this. He began to move away, but
stopped halfway through the door. Leaving them alone would be foolish at best.
"Anya," he murmured. She nodded and waited just outside the door, out of
Buffy's sight . Her hand was unsteady when she took the gun, but she did
indeed take it. Good girl.
He jogged down the stairs and saw the exact furious face that he'd expected to
see. The van should have been moved away from the driveway immediately. Who
else would have a rental vehicle without windows and would be in the house?
None of them had been thinking clearly. "Xander, stop right there."
"That van. You called them. Where are they?"
"Nowhere you need concern yourself with. Let's go talk."
"Shut it, Giles. You left. You left us all to deal with those two demons,
and now Buffy and Willow are gone. You don't get to order us around."
"Let's go talk," Giles repeated more quietly and more firmly as he reached
forward and tugged the stake from Xander's hand with strength that would
surprise him once he thought more clearly. If the boy's other arm hadn't been
in a cast, it probably would have borne a weapon as well.
He resisted for a moment, then turned and stormed back out onto the front
porch. By the time Giles closed the door behind him, Xander had effectively
turned his back to him as he leaned against the railing. Finally the young man
asked, "Why are they here?"
Giles stared out at the deceptively clear morning for a long, long moment
before he could answer Xander. "Have we seen the slightest glimmer of success?"
Silence was his response, so he turned to the other man. "We will take hope
where we find it, Xander. Do you truly believe this will make things any
worse?" No response came, so he added, "Do you think it even could?"
"Whatever. You called them, you deal with them. I'm going to see Willow.
Someone has to care about her." He jogged down the steps, away from the house
of demons and towards his reliable world of cars and construction and humanity.
"I'll be by tomorrow. If I have the time."
Giles was left shaking his head as the boy drove off into his world of black
Another voice stopped him in his tracks as he finally turned back towards the
house, one that made his shoulders tense before he accepted the inevitability
of the help he'd been forced to ask for. "Yes, hello. How are they
"Still critical. In the ICU." Jonathan met his eyes for a second, but
couldn't hold up to the scrutiny. "How's-"
"Do you really think you have the right to know?"
"I tried to help," Jonathan protested. It was ruined by his voice cracking
halfway through. "You think I knew it'd get that bad? I was there fighting
the Mayor, remember? Right with all of you."
Giles shook his head. It wasn't in denial, but in simple regret. He barely
remembered this boy from the high school. The classes hadn't been large,
especially by the time the survivors made it to senior year. He should have
known him better. This boy had been aware of what had been going on. Was his
spectacularly unsuccessful attempt at being a hero more about wish fulfillment
or finally being able to help? Was that failure what had pushed him to this?
Well, why the bloody hell not. If he'd extended his trust to someone to
change, he might as well believe someone could change back. "Yes," he said
when it seemed as if Jonathan might finally demand an answer. "You were. And
I would imagine that being covered in the blood of your partners in crime does
tend to change one's opinion."
That made him flinch. Good. He deserved as much, even if those boys hadn't.
At least, one of the boys hadn't. They'd learned that in the aftermath.
He sighed and began, "Buffy is... dear God. I left them all alone." Without
a further word, he turned and left Jonathan standing on the porch, completely
Giles took the stairs two at a time. Five years younger, and he would have
managed three. Soon he was next to Anya, who practically shoved the gun back
at him as she whispered, "They haven't done anything. They've just stared at
"Come on, then." He took her hand with his free one and stepped inside
Buffy's room. Her look had been blank, but with confusion around the furthest
edges. When it flickered over to Giles, a sharp readiness fell into place like
a guillotine blade; a soldier had seen her general.
Then it came to rest on the third visitor as she took her place next to the
first. The trained readiness instantly fell away, and the emotion that
replaced it for a single, penetrating moment was not blank. It was pure,
Anya had the sense to step backwards, and the even greater sense to put Giles
between her and the Slayer rather than Spike. There was little sense in
Buffy's gaze, Giles could see that much. When the hatred began to fade, it was
once again filled with confusion. Not blank, idle curiosity, but an honest
attempt to put emotions into place when she had beaten them into submission so
Still, Spike remained motionless. It was up to Buffy to drop her gaze to the
carpet, work her brow over what was happening, and then finally raise her head
in order to whisper, "Hello, Spike."
Continued in Chapter 18