"I have considered it, but haven't quite determined the proper method." Giles craned his neck slightly, doing his best to appear casual while looking behind her.
"Spike's still upstairs," she said, heading for the cabinets to see if she could find something resembling a clean bowl. "He wanted to stay out of the way so you and I could talk." Realizing the bowl situation was fairly grim, she grabbed one and started to clean it out. "Besides, he heard me yelp with the cold water, so he decided to wait a little before taking his shower."
"How...considerate of him."
Okay, disapproval simmering under the surface. Not good. Buffy waited until she'd finished cleaning the bowl and placed it on the island counter before answering. "He's more sensitive to the situation than you realize."
He sighed. "Buffy, if Spike was sensitive to the situation, he wouldn't be here; he would have simply stayed away."
She paused halfway between cabinets and island, a box of cereal in her hand. "I hadn't thought about it, but I'm wondering if maybe he didn't have a choice. I mean, I could see Spike coming back, all shiny new soul and throwing himself on his knees before me, maybe even offering up a stake so I could finish him off if I wanted or skulking around the edges of my life, letting me find cigarette butts under the tree, leaving gifts and things, then swooping down to dramatically save me from some demon which I probably really didn't need saving from anyway. What I can't see him willingly doing is living in a basement, not letting anyone know he was there, listening to voices, and just..."
Buffy settled on a stool, putting the cereal box beside the bowl. "You didn't see the way he was when I first found him. He wasn't clean, his clothes were disgusting and his hair...I'd never seen Spike's roots. I mean, I knew that wasn't his natural hair color, but he always kept it touched up. When I found him, his hair had grown out, kinda shaggy and curly -- god, I wish my hair had curls and body like that."
Giles gave her the look, the one that said she'd wandered far off track. "My point is that Spike was crazy when I found him. I'm not certain he had a choice about coming back to Sunnydale."
"He is not, however, crazy now; yet he chooses to remain."
She heard steel in his voice, a certainty of position she wondered if she could change. "He's here because I want him here...and before you start telling me I'm letting my emotions run away with my common sense, it's more than that. I trust Spike. I trust his judgment, I trust him to tell me when my plans aren't working, I trust him to watch my back and be honest with me."
He considered her words before speaking again. "Let us lay aside the issue of trust for a moment, because I know you do not give it easily and any arguments I might have regarding that will not sway you. You and I have been down this road before with Angel. But there are two points I would like to discuss; both are somewhat intimate and likely painful and I do not go there lightly. First, there is the matter of his attack on you last spring. I have heard what Xander has to say and discarded much of it, given his obvious bias against Spike, but at the core of it appears to be the fact that he did attempt to rape you. That you could trust him again after such a thing worries me to no end."
Buffy looked down at her hands. Painful was right. "He did try. He failed. He realized it was wrong and that's one of the reasons he went to find his soul, so he wouldn't make mistakes like that again."
"Buffy, humans who are born with souls make that mistake all the time. It is no guarantee."
"I know." She swallowed, her mouth dry, wanting to run, to end the discussion. "I made those types of mistakes myself." Taking a deep breath, she looked up. "I know one of the things Xander's probably told you, that my relationship with Spike was an abusive one."
Xander had; she could see it from the tightness of Giles' lips. "He's right, Giles. It was abusive. He's just wrong about who was doing most of the abusing."
The look of horror in Giles' eyes as the import of those words registered on him drove Buffy off her stool and to the refrigerator, hunting for the milk. Anything to avoid looking at him. The milk hunt couldn't last forever, though, and she was all too soon forced to return to her stool. "I didn't realize," Giles said quietly.
"It's not something I've really spread around. Everyone wanted to cast Spike as the villain of the piece and it was just easier to not fight because they wouldn't want to hear truth anyway."
"That's all the more reason you shouldn't be in a relationship with him; there's something about the dynamic between the two of you which isn't healthy. It would be best if..."
"Why does everyone know what's best for me?" The words came out a bit more forcefully than Buffy had intended. "Angel left me because it was for my own good -- and don't think I don't know Mom and you felt the same thing. Willow decided to bring me back from the dead because she was convinced I was frying in some hell dimension and apparently never thought of any other possibility, thinking it was for the best."
She'd wanted to listen to Giles rationally, but something was cracking inside. It was as if having opened herself in one area, all the secret frustrations she'd pushed down and the lies she'd told herself to get through the days were demanding to be opened as well. "Then all last year, everyone knew what was best for me, what would get me back on my feet and back into the swing of things, so I'd be happy Buffy again. You left me because you thought it was the best thing, because you wanted me to stand on my own two feet. The only person who didn't seem convinced he knew exactly how my life was supposed to go was Spike. He put up with my silences, with my bitchiness, my demands for sex so I would just feel something...he let me use him pretty much any way I damn well pleased because he knew how much it hurt me to be here."
Buffy was starting to cry, the tears coming fast and furious. She didn't want to do this, but she couldn't stop any more than she could stop the words. "Naturally, Angel hated the idea Spike and I were together, didn't want him around even though he'd helped stop Angelus. One of the first things Angel tried to do after we got his soul back in is to tell me I should break it off for Spike because I deserve better. Then he went and talked to Spike behind my back, probably tried to strong-arm him into leaving...though the likelihood of me getting any details out of either of them is pretty slim."
"You do deserve better, Buffy," Giles said quietly.
"But what if I don't want better? What if I don't want to give up what I have for some maybe better down the road because I might not be there to enjoy it? I didn't ask for this life, Giles. I didn't ask to be stopping apocalypses and training potentials and fighting an evil so old it's the First. I should be finishing college, planning a future, worrying if I'm going to get a job so I can pay off student loans. It's who I am, though. Yes, my boyfriend probably shouldn't be a formerly-evil bloodsucking not-so-fiendish fiend, but he is. It's taken so long for me to open up, to finally let someone back in after Angel; why does everyone want to take him away from me?"
Giles couldn't remember the last time he'd seen Buffy in such a state. There'd been some tears and panic after the death of her mother, but not this. It was if she were cracking before his eyes.
Worry over-riding his need to make her see the logic behind sending Spike away, he reached out, hoping to calm her somehow, but she flinched at his touch, pulled back. "Don't. Don't..."
No, he had seen this before, in the library of the high school, when Buffy had learned of the prophecy of her death at the hands of the Master. She hadn't wanted to be touched then, either, just pulled away and left him and Angel standing there.
He could hear voices in the backyard, Kennedy putting the potentials through drill. Part of his mind made a note to speak with the girl, suggest she soften her methods somewhat; but then, he'd met her watcher and she was merely imitating what she'd been taught. More importantly, though, she would keep the potentials busy and out of the house for awhile. They didn't need to see Buffy in this condition, nor did she need to be seen by them.
The television was going in the other room and the sound of the Dr. Who theme meant Andrew would likely not notice if the building fell down around him. Amanda and Dawn were at school and wouldn't be home until afternoon, Willow at her own classes and Xander his job. Anya was gone as well, saying something about errands and needing to get away from the mob scene for a while.
He didn't want to do it; in fact, every fiber screamed at Giles that he was perpetuating the very thing he wanted to end with this action, but he needed to calm Buffy down somehow. Telling her to stay put, hoping she would listen, he headed upstairs as quickly as he could.
Spike was thankfully at least half-dressed, lounging on top of the bedcovers, book in hand. "Downstairs," Giles told him. "In the kitchen. I think Buffy needs you."
Spike was off the bed in the flash, grabbing the shirt that had been draped over the back of Buffy's desk chair and throwing it on as he headed for the stairs. Only as they entered the kitchen did Giles realize Spike hadn't bothered to ask what was wrong and while he looked concerned, he didn't seem panicked.
The moment she saw him, Buffy left no doubt in Giles' mind he'd done what he had to. Before Spike could speak, Buffy had thrown her arms around him. "Don't go," she insisted, her voice muffled against his chest.
"Not going anywhere," he assured her. "Staying right here as long as you want me."
They seemed to be the right words, for even though the tears kept flowing, Buffy stopped panicking, keeping her arms wrapped around Spike as he stroked her hair. Embarrassed to be playing witness to the scene, Giles started to leave, but stopped when Spike shook his head. "She needs breakfast. We haven't been eating regular the last few days, been keeping strange hours..."
Giles was glad for the task, bustling about the kitchen while Spike spoke soft words to Buffy and the accompanying snuffling noise slowed to a stop. By the time Giles had managed to scramble some eggs and cook a few of the low fat sausages he knew she could be convinced to eat from time to time, Spike had her back on a stool at the island counter, pouring some cereal into the bowl she'd fetched earlier.
Buffy grimaced, her face red and eyes puffy from crying, at the plate Giles put on the counter. "Not that hungry."
"Need to eat, pet, more than that sugar stuff. Get yourself some protein so you can kick evil ass -- or Kennedy's if it's handy."
She wrinkled her nose at Spike, but pulled the plate closer. Once she'd taken a few bites, Spike kissed the top of her head and told her he was going to head back upstairs. When she protested, he replied, "It's a private chat. Best I'm not here. I'm sure Rupert and I will have our own talk later."
The look in Spike's eye let Giles know that he already knew exactly what that talk would consist of and Giles knew the best outcome he could hope for was an armed truce. Unless Buffy set him free, Spike wouldn't go, no matter how much Giles wanted him to.
Slipping off his glasses, Giles pinched the bridge of his nose. He was tired, longing for his home in Bath, wishing for peace and quiet. But there was evil to fight and once this latest crisis was done, there was the Council to rebuild, carrying on the work so someone would be there to stand against the next evil that arose. So much lost, so many friends buried...and he knew there were more funerals to come.
Spike was evil, Buffy decided. Evil to make her eat more than the bird-like amount she had hoped to get away with, evil to make her sit here and finish the conversation with Giles. He was her evil, though, and she wouldn't have it any other way.
With a sigh, she decided it was time to get this over with and looked up, ready to do her best not to dissolve again. Her purposefully bright and chipper words died on her lips as she looked at Giles, who was pinching the bridge of his nose as if he had a headache. "Giles? You okay?"
He looked up, eyes very tired. "I'm sorry, Buffy. I didn't mean to distress you."
She felt a pang of guilt at having let herself lose control. But she probably wouldn't have done so with anyone else besides Giles or Spike; with anyone else, she would have suppressed, put on a brave or angry face but maintained control. "I guess seeing Angel again brought some old things up to the surface that I hadn't dealt with." She shoved the eggs around her plate. "There are a lot of things I haven't dealt with."
"No need to apologize. You've been under a great deal of stress."
Buffy looked back up. "So have you, Giles. You've been flying everywhere, finding these potentials, probably battling bringers along the way, working with the Council lawyers to make sure I have the means to keep the girls going...and I never asked you about it. I just accepted that you showed up, you had the potentials and you were taking care of things. All these years, and most of the time I've never given a thought to what was going on in your life. Just always thought you'd be there to take care of me. That's part of what you wanted me to learn last year, isn't it? That I need to be able to take care of myself, not rely totally on other people to have the answers or fix non-demon things."
Giles looked surprised at her words and then a smile crossed his face. "That was precisely what I hoped you would learn. And I never worried about the fact you showed no interest in my goings on; for one, it gave us both some much-needed space and for another, well, I thought they would bore you."
"Maybe we need to change that. With Mom gone and Dad essentially gone, you're the only parent type I have left."
"Which means you'll listen politely to my advice and then ignore it?"
Buffy winced. "Okay, so I haven't been the greatest on that score. You wanted to talk Let's talk."
Giles sighed. "There is one question raised by Spike's attack on you I haven't heard anyone ask. If the chip was working, how could he do such a thing without tremendous pain? I'm not asking for details of what exactly happened, but by its very nature, such an incident would be violent."
"Oh, it was violent." Her stomach clenched, and she paused, waiting until the feeling eased before continuing on. Was it from the memory or what she was about to admit. "But Spike's chip stopped working on me after I came back. He found out accidentally; I hit him and he hit back and it didn't hurt. We kinda went from there. I asked Tara to research it -- didn't dare ask Willow because she'd already gone off the deep end with the magic use -- and she said it was a basic change that happened when Willow did the spell, that I didn't read as 'human' to the chip."
"Good lord! Do you realize what this means, Buffy? It could just as easily be a malfunction of the chip itself, not the spell. Has he been able to hit others? I understand that he killed while under the control of the First, but presumably that control deadened the pain centers of his brain. What happens when he's not under the First's control?"
It was now or never. "The chip's out, Giles. It's not an issue anymore."
He stared at her. "How?" he managed. "Why?"
"It started to malfunction while you were off in the desert with the girls, causing him pain. I contacted Riley and he arranged for some Initiative surgeons to take care of the chip."
"Oh, I must imagine that thrilled Riley no end. He actually agreed to this?"
"He left the decision in my hands -- and he didn't come himself. Sent someone." She couldn't help a slightly bitter smile. "Did I tell you Riley's married? Less than a year after we broke up, he found someone else and tied the knot."
"Buffy, I had no idea..."
"So much for my attempt at normalcy, huh? So, my choice was to have the chip repaired or have it removed. I opted for removal."
Giles offered up an exasperated sigh. "Why not have it repaired? Then we at least don't have the worry he might attack someone while he's not under the control of the First."
"For one thing, because it was killing him. What about the next time it malfunctioned? Just stand by and watch him die? Aside from that, it was just a muzzle. Having that chip in is saying we don't trust him to make the choice."
"When they put that chip in, we were bloody well thankful for the muzzle! Might I remind you that he tried to kill you on more than one occasion, even after getting that chip implanted. The demon is always down there, always waiting to come out."
Realization dawned. "You're afraid this is going to be like Angel, aren't you? That something will happen and he'll turn evil and I'll have to kill him."
"The possibility has crossed my mind. Buffy, you just saw Angelus; how can you not be worried the same thing might happen to Spike?"
"Because Angel's soul wasn't something Angelus wanted; the demon's fought against it all the way. Spike wanted his soul; he made the decision to go search for it. The demon wanted to get a soul, Giles; isn't it amazing?"
"It's amazing, I'll admit." Giles dropped his glasses on the counter top, rubbing the bridge of his nose again. "In fact, it's somewhat earth-shattering because it throws into doubt everything we have ever known or believed about vampires. I know several people who would have loved the opportunity to interview Spike, discuss this with him...they are, unfortunately, all dead now."
He hadn't spoken of that aspect of the Council's destruction until this moment and Buffy wondered if those losses lay behind the harshness he'd shown recently. Sure, Giles had often decried her "frivolous" activities in the past, but this new insistence on business only was starting to worry her. Reaching across the counter, she put her hand on his. "I'm sorry, Giles. I'm sorry all your friends are gone."
They sat there silently for several minutes. "This conversation isn't going to go anywhere, is it?" he asked at last. "You're not willing to give up Spike and it's a relationship I'm not happy to see you in. Neither of us are going to move and if we continue, we'll only end up hurting each other. I don't want to do that."
"It's not what I want either."
When he looked at her, his eyes were tired, resigned. "I owe it to you to let you know I think this is the wrong for you. That I believe it is dangerous for Spike to be here. That it was foolish for you to have the chip removed. That the First may not be done with him and every moment he is with us is a liability."
At least they were laying their cards on the table. "I think you're wrong. I've watched Spike change and I know he can be much more than just a killer. The chip needed to be removed for him to move forward. I can be honest in front of him, show him all my fears without worrying if it's going to completely demoralize him. I draw strength from him and I don't want to lose that, just as I don't want to lose what I gain from you. I don't want to have to make a choice between two men I love. Yes, I said 'love,' Giles. I love Spike and I love you. It means the world to me to have you here."
"There may come a day when you must choose."
"Then I deal with it then. Until then, I want both of you with me. I know you don't like Spike, but can you try to accept the situation for now, at least until we defeat the First?"
She wished she could read him, figure out what he was thinking, but he seemed so far away and lost to her. "I will do my best."
Feeling better, she squeezed his hand and offered him what she hoped was a sunny smile. The smile vanished as he continued. "If I feel he has become a threat, I will take action."
"Talk to me first, please?" When he didn't respond immediately, she became more insistent. "Please?"
After one of the longest pauses of her life, Giles nodded. "I promise. We also need to deal with that damn trigger."
"And figure out what we're going to do with the potentials." She was glad to move the conversation onto safer grounds, more practical matters. Buffy didn't fool herself, though; there was now a tension between them that had not existed before and the possibility their differences on this might never be resolved.
Continued in Chapter Twenty-Six