Disclaimer: Everybody who matters belongs to Joss.
Feedback: If you like it, let me know. If you don't, tell me why: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pairing: mild S/B
Summary: After "Lies My Parents Told Me" - four people, three conversations, one apology, and a repair made with duct tape.
I know lots of people have done variations on post-ep stories for Lies My Parents Told Me, and this is mine. Nothing is resolved and nobody gets laid. Pretty much par for the course as my fic goes, though. Conversations are had.
Walking through the cool California night, looking at neatly trimmed lawns bleached yellow-grey by the streetlights, he wonders whether there was ever a chance that it could have worked.
If Spike had died, maybe. If Wood had dusted him like he'd planned (and Giles wasn't fooling himself here; he knew exactly what Wood had planned, and it had had nothing to do with a fair fight), all would not have been well, exactly. But he would have succeeded, this one last time, in saving the girl from herself.
He knows how blind she can be when it comes to the people she loves.
He finds Wood's house dark, but he doesn't care. Knocks on the door anyway, and isn't surprised when Wood opens it almost immediately. Even in the reflected streetlight, even with dark skin to hide the obvious bruises, it's clear that Wood is thrashed.
Giles wonders what part of him has died, to have encouraged this, to have hoped for worse. And even as he's thinking that, he knows: nothing has. This has always been what he is. He just forgot, for a while.
"What?" Wood asks flatly. Doesn't seem pleased to see Giles, and why would he be?
"I came to make sure you were all right," Giles replies. In his own ears his voice sounds just as flat.
"I can see that," Giles says evenly. Just looks at the other man for a moment, then: "Can I come in?"
Without saying a word, Wood steps back, opening a dark space in the doorway for Giles to enter.
The Summers house is dark, but far from quiet. Hearing a little better than human picks up the breathing of many sleepers, spread out mostly through the living room downstairs. Not where she's going, though, or at least not yet. Buffy is picking her way through the sleeping bags on the floor of Dawn's room.
Her sister is sleeping, sprawled out on her back the way she does, as though nothing in the world can hurt her. The sticking plaster on her forehead almost glows in the moonlight seeping in through the almost-closed curtains, but the younger girl seems calm in her sleep.
Buffy sleeps on her side these days, curled up in a ball.
Buffy feels the urge to reach out and touch her, not for comfort so much as to make sure she's still solid. Lately, sometimes, she finds herself imagining what it was really like, before Dawn came. Wonders who Angel had to avoid, when he snuck into the house at night. Who stole her stuffed dog when she was twelve, and where all those pairs of shoes went. Wonders who her mother paid so much attention to, that wasn't her. It scares her, how hard it is to trust the things she used to be sure she knew.
She watches her sister sleep for a few moments, then reaches down to brush her fingers through the air above Dawn's head, and turns away.
Wood doesn't turn on the light - just turns and walks away - and Giles picks his way through the hallway in near-darkness. In what proves to be the living room, bleached light filters through the open blinds, dimly illuminating a neat, well-kept room filled with modern-looking furniture. Wood sits carefully in a chair framed with steel tubing, and gestures Giles towards a low leather seat, somewhere in appearance between a futon and an ottoman.
"You didn't come here to inquire after my health," Wood says, when Giles is seated. His eyes aren't visible, but Giles knows how they would look. Cold, dead. Tired.
"No," Giles answers. "I'm sorry that this went badly for you, but you did understand the risk."
The shadow across the room nods. Light glints off the frame of his chair, a small, harsh point in the darkness. "What, then?" the other man asks.
"I need to know what you're going to do now."
Wood smiles humorlessly. "You mean, you want to know if I'm going to go wreak my vengeance against your girl."
When the other man replies, his voice is tight, and tinged with several distinct kinds of bitterness. "Not her. And not her vampire, either, as much as I'd like to. They both made it clear that it was worth my life to go near him again."
Giles wishes that he were suprised to hear this. But he'd known where her loyalties lay before this began, and that was the point, wasn't it? To turn them back, by force if need be, before anyone got hurt.
"Will you help us, then?"
Wood laughs shortly. "And how am I going to do that? I don't think we're on the best terms, now. Should I send a note home with Dawn to offer my services? Which are what, exactly? Guy in charge of getting his ass kicked by demons?"
"You're still a fighter." Giles shifts uncomfortably on the couch thing, which is hard, and too low. "She won't ask you for help. It's not her way. But she will need it, nonetheless, and I hope that when that day comes, you'll be there."
"When the end comes, I'll do what's right," the other man answers. His expression is unreadable in the darkness, but Giles understands. This is not the answer he was looking for, but it's as good as he's going to get.
Buffy stands in her kitchen, very near the door to the basement, trying to pretend, just to herself, that she came down for a glass of orange juice.
He's not in there. She can feel it from here. The prickle at the back of her neck that's peculiarly him is utterly absent, and she feels obscurely irritated that he's not here now, just when she really wants someone to not talk to.
When she flicks it on, the too-faint basement light illuminates the debris from Spike's deprogramming session. Nobody's cleaned it up yet - he hasn't been home, and who else would care? Walking down the stairs, she fishes the blanket from where it's fallen against the wall, and picks up the cot, careful not to let it scrape loudly on the concrete. She'll just put the place back together, and she'll be done by the time he comes home. He doesn't have to know. Nobody has to know.
She picks up a piece of the bed from beside the dryer, turning the broken piece of metal over in her hands, and tries not to wonder where he is. The house feels empty without him.
The first genuine surprise of the night comes as Giles turns onto the sidewalk in front of Wood's house.
"Out for a stroll?" The vampire flicks a spent cigarette butt into the principal's lawn, and lights another. Chain-smoking again. Giles forces down the sudden impulse to ask him for one.
"Spike. How pleasant to see you." He doesn't mean it, and lets his tone make that clear.
"Wish I could say the same." The vampire is slouching against a tree, full of exaggerated calm, the eye at the heart of a whirl of casual violence. Giles knows what that kind of dangerous grace looks like. He can tell at a glance that Spike has recovered something of his old self from tonight's victory. Such as it was.
Good, he thinks. It'll make things easier, when the time comes.
"To what do I owe the pleasure?" Giles hasn't stopped walking - he knows better - and Spike falls into step beside him as though he has all the time in the world, and has chosen to go for an evening walk in this very direction.
"Was in the neighborhood. Saw you stop by, thought I'd wait. Thought we might have a chat, yeah?"
"What is it you want, Spike?" Giles lets a little exasperation show in his voice. It's good to be seen as the librarian.
"I know what you did tonight," Spike says without preamble. "Know you were trying to save her from me." Giles says nothing, just looks at him, and the vampire continues, "But it wasn't ever necessary, you know. If I'm a danger to her, she'll kill me. She knows that."
"It's not her that I'm worried about."
Spike nods, takes a drag on his cigarette. "Yeah. Fair point. I could cut quite a swath through the pack before she could get in to stop me."
"That doesn't bother you?" Visions of the dead dance before Giles, and he brushes them away. That was a different vampire, but the principle holds.
"She asked me to stay," Spike answers simply, and shoots a sharp look at him. The answer is uncharacteristically oblique, but Giles understands the implication.
I trust her, and you don't.
Which is, of course, the heart of it.
As Spike enters the house, his senses are reaching out for her. It's habit, really, but it still means something. In the entrance hall, he registers mild suprise, because she's in the basement.
He pauses at the top of the stairs, hand on the light switch, looking down at her. She's curled up on his cot - which, he notes, has been newly repaired with duct tape - apparently fast asleep. She's smaller when she's sleeping, and looks so very vulnerable.
She wakes when he turns off the light, blinking up at him in the darkness. He closes the kitchen door behind him on his way down the stairs, and now it really is dark.
"I'm sorry, I was just--"
"Don't." He cuts her off. Doesn't really want to hear it, whatever it is. "It doesn't matter."
He can see her stand in the pitch blackness, not at all unsteady even though she can't see a damn thing. He takes advantage of the opportunity to watch her. She looks unhappy, and he wonders what her side of the conversation was like here tonight. Wonders how she measures the Watcher's betrayal, and whether she even thinks of it in those terms.
"I didn't know," she says quietly, and he nods, even though she can't see it, because he does believe her.
"Are we good?" she asks in the darkness.
"Yeah," he says again, but this time he's smiling a little.
"Okay then," she says, pulling herself together. She walks towards the door, and straight into him.
He catches her, surprised. She leans into his arms for a moment, and he lets her. She's warm, and softer than he remembers, and seems very calm for having just fallen in the dark. Still off-balance, she brushes her cheek against his shoulder, resting her forehead in the hollow of his neck, and just for the space of a breath they stand there like that.
Too soon, though, she straightens up and pulls away.
"Watch your step, Slayer," he tells her, letting her go.
"I was," she says quietly, holding his hand for a moment longer.
And then she's gone, and he lays down on his cot and waits for morning, and sleep.