Giles sat down in his favorite leather chair and checked his watch. It was hard to find a convenient time to call California, between the time difference and Buffy's schedule, but he took a chance that she would be home. She answered on the third ring.
"Giles! I was hoping you'd call."
"Hello, Buffy. How are things?"
"Oh, you know, same old, same old on the Hellmouth. What's up with you?"
Such a loaded question, thought Giles, she has no idea. He looked through the doorway of the study and across the hall, where he could see them moving about in the kitchen. He heard low voices, and then soft laughter, and smiled. 'I've started a new business' he was tempted to say. 'The Rupert Giles Home for Wayward Witches and Vampires.'
"Actually, that's what I called about. I think Willow is ready to return to Sunnydale."
"I take it from your reaction that you don't think it's a good idea?"
"No, that's not it, exactly," she sighed. "It's just, things have been pretty low key around here this summer. It's a busy time for Xander at work, and Anya has been trying to get the shop ready to reopen. Just me and Dawn, basically, and I haven't had to deal with a lot of stuff, which was a nice break. But, you know, summer vacation has to end sometime, I guess."
Giles felt badly. Buffy had been through so much this past year, and now he was going to return to Sunnydale with more for her to deal with. More than she even realized. It didn't seem fair, but then, life never was.
"Hello? Giles? You still there?"
"Oh, yes, of course. Sorry."
"How is Willow, anyway?"
"She is doing quite well, actually. The coven has helped immensely, and., well, she's received a lot of support, and she seems to be dealing with her grief over Tara in an appropriate manner. She's still very sad, Buffy. But she has good days, now, too."
"That's good," said Buffy softly, "I've been worried about her. I feel bad I haven't called..."
"She understands, Buffy. And she enjoys the cards you've been sending her."
"So," he could hear her take a deep breath, "when are you bringing her back?"
"I was planning for about a week from now. She would like to return in time to register for fall classes. And Buffy, she intends to live at the dorm. She wanted you to know that."
"That's probably a good idea. Dawn is still, well, a little scared of her."
"O.K. then, you'll call and let me know about your flight and everything, right?"
"Of course, but Buffy, there's something else. As a matter of fact, someone else."
"What? Who?" she asked, her voice full of curiosity.
"Well, er, it's Spike," he said gently.
At the sound of his name, Buffy sat down hard in the chair.
"I heard you. I just...don't get it."
"It's, well, rather a long story."
"I've got time. I think you need to tell me." This was about the last thing she had expected. After all this time, she'd wondered if she would ever hear from him again. And now she finds out he's in England, with Giles?
"Well, he showed up on my doorstep shortly after I returned here with Willow," Giles told her. "I'm afraid he was in rather bad shape, at the time, poor chap."
'Poor chap?' thought Buffy. Giles is referring to Spike as 'poor chap?'
"So, what happened to him? Is he alright?" She didn't like the note of panic in her voice.
"He's fine. As for what happened to him, I think you'd better ask him that yourself, when you see him."
"No, I think you'd better tell me."
Giles sighed. She was using her I-will-not-take-no for an answer tone with him, and he knew better than to argue with her, even over the phone.
"Are you sitting down?"
"Giles! Melodramatic much?"
"Very well Buffy. Spike now has a soul." He waited for her reaction. "Buffy?"
"He got the chip out?"
"What? No, I didn't say anything about the chip."
"But, he must have done something to get cursed with..."
"No, he didn't get cursed. He sought it out, Buffy. He won it through a series of trials."
"Why?" she asked quietly.
"Now that I must insist you speak to him about yourself. And Buffy, he's not exactly the Spike you knew. You may not recognize all the changes in him."
Giles hung up the phone after saying his good-byes to a stunned slayer. He walked into the kitchen, where Willow was preparing a salad for her lunch. She sat at the kitchen table, slicing vegetables. Every once in awhile Spike would reach over and grab a carrot or a slice of pepper, and she would playfully swat his hand. He sat at the other end of the table with a laptop, a legal pad, and a mug of blood. He spent almost as much time on the computer now as Willow did. They both looked up when Giles entered the room.
"You get a hold of her, Rupert?" asked Spike.
"Yes," he said, removing his glasses.
"Uh, oh, must be bad," said Willow with a smile, looking at Spike.
"Yes, he's removed his glasses," Spike nodded, his voice mock serious. "always a harbinger of bad news."
Giles smiled ruefully and took two beers out of the fridge, handing one to Spike.
"No thanks, not thirsty."
"So, did you tell her about me, mate?" Spike asked, truly serious this time.
"Yes, about the soul too. She insisted."
Spike smiled, "I thought as much. Stubborn, that one. How'd she take it?"
Giles took a drink of his beer. "Confused, as you'd expect. Wants to know the details, which I told her she'd have to get from you."
"What about me?" Willow asked. "Bet she can't wait to see me, ha, ha."
"No, Willow, I think she is looking forward to seeing you. She's just a little nervous, that's all. Worried about Dawn."
Willow nodded and kept slicing vegetables. Giles looked at Spike.
"Hey, Red?" Spike asked gently.
She looked up and tried to smile, but her lower lip quivered and she had to swallow back the tears that threatened to spill.
"C'mon, chin up, Will. We're in this together, you and me, right?"
"Right, Will," she answered. This time she did manage a smile.
He laughed and got up, moving around to the back of her chair and kissing her on top of the head. "That's my girl." Then, he gathered up his things and headed up to his room.
"Xander is going to be a problem."
Giles sighed. "Isn't he always?"
Continued in Part 2