At Arm's Reach
Giles knew the vampire was there before he'd made a sound. The same innate sense of danger that had saved him from the Bringer in London warned him now, though the danger was not as certain.
"Hello, Spike," he said without turning, without letting any of his emotions bleed through
"Watcher," came Spike's acknowledgement, as the vampire moved into his line of sight and leaned against one of the porch's supports. As Giles watched, Spike fished a cigarette out of his jacket and lit it, staring out into the night and making every appearance of ignoring Giles' presence entirely.
Silence settled between them, and while Giles usually appreciated a quiet moment, this one grew in weight and breadth until it was a third presence on the porch, and Giles found himself speaking just to dispel it.
"She told you."
Spike took another drag on his cigarette, watching the smoke drift into the night before answering. "Didn't have to. You're the one suggested I go with Wood, and you certainly haven't been making a secret of thinking I'm a threat. Figured it out on my own, didn't I?"
The hostility and anger that Giles had expected was strangely absent from Spike's voice. He supposed that boded well for this conversation not degenerating into something more physical, at least.
Spike continued before Giles could say anything. "Can't say I totally agree with it all, but I understand how you got there. Crazy vampire could snap at any moment and kill someone. I was a ticking bomb -- I get that I needed to be disarmed."
Giles caught the past tense. "Was?"
"Found the trigger." Spike took another drag on his cigarette. "Broke it. I'm as safe now as -- well, any vampire with a soul. Guess I owe you and Wood something for that, even if that's not exactly what you were hoping would happen."
Giles floundered for a moment for something to say; he couldn't apologise without feeling like a hypocrite because he still believed in his reasons for what he'd done. If faced with the same circumstances again, he would make the same decision. What he finally settled on was, "It wasn't anything personal."
"Yeah," Spike replied shortly, tossing the finished cigarette aside. "I know. None of this is personal with you."
There was something sharp and accusatory in Spike's tone that went beyond the incident they were talking about. "Just exactly what is that supposed to mean?"
"Just what I said. It's not just me, it's everything. You're keeping everyone at arm's length: Xander, Willow, even Buffy. Or maybe especially Buffy." Blue eyes that were too old and too knowing sought out Giles' own. "Think you might have finally managed to push Buffy away with this last stunt."
The memory of Buffy shutting the door in his face flashed through Giles' mind. His emotions at the time had been complicated; there had been hurt, of course, and anger, but there had also been... relief? "That wasn't what this was about," he said harshly, attempting to push that disturbing thought away.
"No, it was about making sure that little ol' me wasn't a threat anymore." Spike gave a ghost of a smile. "Which I'm not, so mission accomplished." The uncomfortable blue gaze was once again searching out and holding Giles' own. "But you can't tell me that a smart bloke like you had any illusions about what Buffy's reaction was going to be, regardless of what happened to me. You knew this was going to drive her away. And I think you were counting on it."
"That's utterly ridiculous," Giles scoffed. "Why in heaven's name would I want to alienate my Slayer?"
Spike just looked at him. "That's the question, isn't it?"
Feeling defensive, but refusing to show it, Giles crossed his arms and held his ground. "You seem to have this all figured out. What's the answer?"
"That's simple." Spike grinned. "You're scared shitless."
Something inside Giles froze, whispering, He knows!, but he was careful not to show any reaction. "That is your great insight?" he asked, keeping his voice and expression calm and just a little disdainful. "Of course I'm scared. One would have to be insane not to be, considering what we are facing."
"Except it's not the First that's got you ducking and covering. It's your nearest and dearest."
Giles shook his head. "I have no idea what you're talking about." He began to turn, to head back into the dubious safety of the house, but Spike's voice stopped him cold.
"Then you want to explain why you've been going out of your way not to touch anyone?"
"I've touched people," Giles protested, but with less heat in his voice than before. It was hard to protest something that had more than a grain of truth in it.
"Yeah," Spike replied. "Now. But only after you'd done such a good job at not touching for so long that the Scoobies thought you were the First. Have to tell you, mate, it takes effort to be distant enough to be mistaken for incorporeal evil."
"That was a mistake." Even as he admitted that, Giles knew that he'd just confirmed for Spike that he had been doing so deliberately.
"Bloody right it was. One you're still making."
Giles shook his head. "A certain distance is needed to maintain perspective."
"Bollocks," Spike said bluntly.
"You have noticed what's been happening, haven't you?" Giles wasn't sure why he was continuing this conversation, especially as it was going places he didn't want to go. What did he care what Spike thought about him, or his actions?
"Impending apocalypse and end of the world." Spike gave a half shrug. "Same old, same old. It's not like you don't face that at least once a year."
"Not like this. This is different. The damage already done..." Images flashed through Giles' mind -- the Watchers' Headquarters reduced to a pile of rubble, all the Watchers, friends and colleagues that were killed there or in the defense of the potential Slayers, and the Potentials themselves. Young girls that it was the Council's responsibility to keep alive. Dying, one by one, despite his best efforts. No, this wasn't like any threat they'd faced before.
Spike had been watching his face closely and gave a knowing nod. "Guess for you it's not. None of those dusty old Council resources for you to fall back on, being practically the last, lone keeper of all that tradition and duty. Can see how that would wear on a man."
"Bugger tradition," Giles all but growled. "This isn't about tradition. It's about--"
"What?" Spike asked, raising an expectant eyebrow.
As he said the word, Giles once again felt the reality weighing heavily down on him. Not that he could ever forget about it, even for a few minutes. He was responsible for keeping the Potentials, the girls -- barely more than children -- alive and safe. He was equally responsible for keeping the world safe, and all too aware that he probably wouldn't be able to do both. And then there was his Slayer, the one he'd felt responsible for, for years. And the others, who were more than colleagues, more than friends.... and whom responsibility might demand he give up at any time.
Spike was still watching him, and Giles wondered how much of his thoughts were visible on his face, especially when Spike said, "It scares you. What you might have to do."
He didn't reply; to do so would be to give too much away, whichever way he answered.
"Can get that." Spike moved closer, and Giles had to fight the urge to step back to maintain the physical distance between them. The vampire's words were crowding him far more than his body. "Some tough decisions coming up." Spike tipped his head. "They'll be easier if you don't get too close. Don't know too much. Easier if you see them as Potentials instead of as little girls."
Giles tensed in anger, in denial, and opened his mouth to argue, but nothing came out. Because despite the harshness of the words, there was more truth than lies in what Spike was saying. Any response he made they both knew was going to be nothing more than a feeble attempt to deny the reality of the situation.
Spike continued implacably. "'Cept that's not working with the Scoobies, is it? You already know too much, they're already real to you, and no matter how much distance you try to create, they're going to be too close. You can try and alienate them all you want, it won't make the hard decisions any easier." Blue eyes with just a hint of gold bore into Giles' own. "You could make Buffy hate you. Won't change a thing -- you're still going to hurt. Just like last time."
With that, Spike backed off and headed inside the house, leaving Giles alone with the echoes of his words.
Unsettled, Giles moved out into the yard, farther away from the house and the people within. He tried to order his thoughts, to get back the clarity he'd had before talking to Spike, but his mind was awhirl with love and loss and pain and worry and...
There was no way he could avoid it. Even if they won, there would be a cost, and one that Giles feared was going to be far too high. And Spike had just stripped away whatever illusion of defenses Giles had managed to build against that.
As revenge for attempted murder went, it was subtle and effective. And that had to be a sign of the apocalypse when Spike was doing subtle.
"I think I liked him better when he was just trying to kill us," Giles muttered.