All About Spike - Print Version
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Wishful Thinking
By Ginmar

Disclaimer: I'm not sure where this is going, or even if it's going. Reviews appreciated, etc.

I don't own any of these characters.



Part One

After she got home, Buffy found she just couldn’t move. She kept seeing the look on his face, feeling the twist in her chest as she told him.It kept unreeling itself in her mind.She knew she wouldn’t be able to erase that look from her memory; it would stay there, a reproach to add to all her others, till she’d fixed it. “I can’t love you.”Now she knew why her Dad had always said, “This is gonna hurt me more than it’s gonna hurt you.”Once, centuries ago, she’d kept going with the hope of Spike’s humiliation; now, she flinched at the thought of having administered it. When had that happened? Some subtle sea change had occurred in her, and she wanted to pinpoint it, so she could have a perimeter. When had she started to flinch at his pain? When he’d first told her he loved her? When he almost died at Glory’s hands, and still didn’t tell?She looked around at the same old living room, and struggled to make a mental list of all the things that had happened here, to fix in her mind some framework of events, but it didn’t work because too much had gone on here, too many things had defied reason.It wasn’t a house where she could reminisce about happy graduations, or simple days. Her mother had died here; Giles had slept here, she and Spike had sat at opposite sides of the table with her mother in between, glaring, while they forged an alliance. Years later, they had forged a different alliance on that couch, one of desire and emotion, a conspiracy against loneliness. No. Nothing normal there. No comfort.

She thought of their house in LA, and knew that that was the last true refuge she’d had, really, till Spike, and she suddenly wanted to see it so badly she ached. There, at least, she had been an innocent girl, completely unaware of future and fate, unless it involved feverish yearnings about Christian Slater and Jon Bon Jovi. How long had it been?

She was twenty-one; it had been six years. She’d killed and killed and killed, slaying God only knows how many vampires, demons, and various creatures. Even a god. Her existence had been shaped by killing, and she had fled that reality into Spike’s bed. That had worked only as long as she could keep herself from looking at what she’d been doing to him.  She’d looked at her feelings through someone else’s eyes, and what she had seen had been Parker.She was rattled all the way around. Who’d have thought it would be Riley to administer the wake up call?

That was the worst part. She had finally seen herself, and it made her feel dirty. She’d worried about what her friends would think of her for sleeping with him; now nothing they had done together could bother her half so much as what others would think of her for using him like that, for taking his love, and not giving anything back.

There was a soft knock on the door, but Bufy didn’t even bother getting up. She knew who it was. After a moment, Tara stepped inside. She looked at Buffy slouching on the sofa and shook her head sympathetically. “Buffy---what’s wrong?”

Buffy collected herself. “Riley walked in on Spike and me.”

“Oh. Oh.” She sat down on the couch next to Buffy.”Were you…?”

“No.” Buffy said quietly. “We were asleep.And Spike was…Well. That doesn’t matter.” She said. It somehow didn’t seem right to criticize him when he hadn’t been doing anything that was against his morals, and she had.She didn’t have a lot of wiggle room there. “I just…” She gulped. “I---I---saw what I was doing to him all of a sudden. Just like that. It was like I could see both of us, and---and---He sure looked a lot better than me.”

“Oh, Buffy…” Tara wrapped her arm around Buffy’s shoulder. “You’re going through a lot…”

“That’s not the point.I might be going through a lot, but I’m pulling him with me…He loves me, and this is what I’ve been doing to him, and I’m supposed to be good, I’m supposed to be….” She hunched over her lap, shoulders slumping in defeat.“He loves me.” She whispered. “I went back and I told him, I told him, I couldn’t keep doing that to him, that I couldn’t love him…”

“Oh, Buffy…”

“I have to do something.” She whispered. “I have to fix it.”

“Buffy…” Tara simply couldn’t think of anything to say.

“I’m not bad, am I? Even though I act bad?”

“Buffy,” Tara said carefully.“Even good people sometimes do bad things. You didn’t intend to hurt him, did you?”

“No,” Buffy whispered. “But I didn’t try not to hurt him. I didn’t even think about him. And now he’s all I can think about, because what I was doing to him…”

“Buffy…” Tara said helplessly.On the one hand, Buffy was tearing her up inside about using Spike; but on the other hand she herself had seen Spike’s face.She’d seen what Glory had done to him, and had noticed how abruptly Buffy had brought him into things.Because he was useful, she had thought.But maybe more than that, and a lot sooner than Buffy herself thought. This had started a long time ago.

Buffy hugged her arms around herself, and frantically ran through scenarios in her head. Apologize again. What good would that do? She suddenly saw the crypt, as it had been when she left him, and felt the bottom drop out of her stomach.She had done that to him; he literally had no place left.

A memory came back to her, of her stomping into his crypt yet again, to find him perched cross-legged on the tomb, a newspaper in his hands. One look at her face, and he’d tossed the magazine aside. “What is it? What---“

“Glory found us. Can you get us a vehicle, can you…?” Knowing, she thought, that he would steal a vehicle, knowing somewhere in the back of her mind what she was asking him to do, but just not admitting it. Always, always, silencing that little voice.

And he’d gotten a vehicle and taken them away. But it wasn’t her fault the vehicle had been stolen. Not at all. She was blameless; all she’d done was make the request; it had nothing to do with her if he chose the usual Spike method to fulfill it. Nope. Not her problem at all.

I’m so scared. I’m so scared. Don’t leave me.Bodies slamming up against plaster, through plaster, frantic kisses….She closed her eyes and closed off the memory.Quick review time: Angel, giving her a cross and a claddagh ring; Parker, giving her a complex; and Riley giving something with one hand while he took something else away with the other. And then Spike; no presents there, unless you counted saving her life, her sister’s, her friends’, and enduring torture on top of it.Beyond telling her he loved her, plus some embroidery upon the basic phrase, no torrents of words from Spike, no pickup lines, no pretense.

“Buffy…” Tara looked down at her hands. “How do you think he’ll take it?”

“Well….” Buffy said, staring off into the distance. “He could turn evil and try to destroy the world, except oh, that was Angel, and oh, yeah, Spike was the one trying to save the world. Of course at the time he did think of the world as being like a big buffet, but still, vampire, right? No chip then.Or, if he was Riley, he could always hire some vamp ho to suck him off and then blame it all on me.Not to mention bitch at me because I’m the Slayer and Mom’s dying kinda killed all the desire to shag.” She sniffled loudly.“I should’ve felt this bad ages ago, you know? I can’t believe…”

“Buffy, your Mom died, and then you.”

“Doesn’t count.” Buffy insisted stubbornly. There’s nothing wrong with me, remember? You said so yourself.Nothing. Would it have been better if I’d been robbing banks? You wouldn’t make excuses for me then, because there wouldn’t be.”

“Buffy…” Tara quietly gathered her strength. “You got pulled back from heaven, Buffy. And you had to go right back to work. Your mom’s dead, your sister’s a delinquent, and your boyfriend took off blaming you because he went to vamp hos. Hey, I know. Stop me when I get to the fun part.”

 “That’s why it doesn’t work for me, Tara. All that happened, and it’s all true. But I had the choice not to hurt someone else, or hurt them, and I picked the second one. It stopped being okay, the minute we…” The minute I kissed him, knowing how he felt.  She took a deep breath. “How am I supposed to know if it was just the circumstances, or him? People under stress do strange things. But what if it was him, just him?”  She stopped and looked over at Tara. “Oh. My. God.”

She got as far as the edge of the cemetery before her nerves quailed.Demons? No problem.Vampires?  Child’s play. Save the world? How many times?

Apologize to guy who happens to be vampire, whom you impulsively shagged numerous times, knowing full well he loved you---Oh, God. Funnily enough, now that she’d actually admitted it, she could think about the sex. Thinking about it made her feel a little light-headed, a little shaky, and a few other things she wasn’t used to acknowledging.

Rather than entering the cemetery, she hesitated at the boundary, then idly began walking along it. She was halfway around when she came to the funeral home---huge, castle-like house, because funeral directors in Sunnydale made more money than rock stars----when she noticed the dumpster discreetly located at the rear. The lid had been flipped open, and she went to investigate.

What she saw made her bite her lip. It was full of bits and pieces, almost all of them burnt or partially melted. It made her sick to her stomach. Once again, she tried to summon the anger she’d felt at Spike during their relationship, but it just wouldn’t come.You knew what he was.

Taking a deep breath for resolve, she jumped lightly over the fence and headed in the direction of his crypt.She was hoping he wasn’t going to be there. That would be nice. For me, she thought. Not for him.

She was almost out of the trees near his crypt when the door  opened, and Spike, his arms full of blackened and burnt shapes, came out and headed in her direction.She stepped out of the shadows, and he saw her. Stopped still in his tracks, the cigarette dropping from his lips onto his hand. With a curse, he dropped the armload of stuff and rubbed the red mark on his hand.He kept his head down so long, supposedly looking at the mark, that she realized he didn’t want to look at her. Her face burned.

“Want me to….?” She really didn’t know how to finish that. Want me to kiss it and make it all better?

“Look, Buff,” he said finally, gently, as she hadn’t spoken. “Not tonight, okay? I’m about done in.”

“That’s kind of why I came.” She said quietly. “To see if I could help.”

“Help with what?” He coked his head at her, puzzled, then drew back, hurt. “I’m not leaving, Slayer, no matter what happens! I’m staying.”

“I’m not asking you to,” Buffy said quietly.“I’m just here to help. You. Do. Something.”

“Such as?”

“Maybe clean?”

“What is this?”

Buffy stepped past him, into the tomb, to look around. Something else she needed to do, so she could more accurately blame herself.The crypt looked terrible; nothing in it appeared to unscorched, and when she descended halfway down the ladder, it was even worse.Everything there was black; the rugs burnt like tissue paper, and burnt books scattered everywhere. Abashed, she turned around and went back upstairs.

“What’s your plan?”

Spike blinked at her, startled. “Why are you here?”

So help her God, she couldn’t say it.Two simple little words. I’m sorry.“I wanted to help. Clean. Up.”

“Why? Feeling guilty?”

She looked down, bracing herself, then whispered. “Yes.”

Spike looked at her, hard, then laughed. He couldn’t help himself. From mortal enemy to whipping boy to shag bunny to pity project. What a trajectory. Everything but love.Well, he had his limits. “No thanks, pet. No pity, please.”

“I don’t –what?” She flushed. “I don’t feel sorry for you or anything.”She had the grace to squirm, just a bit. “But I do feel bad about your crypt.”

“Oh, do you? Gonna help me clean up the mess?”

“Yes.”

This really startled him; he had to look at her to confirm it. She did feel bad. “Tell you what, pet, raincheck, okay? Not in the mood right now.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, I’m just not ready for the let’s be friends stage. Matter of fact,” he said thoughtfully, “I’m not sure it wouldn’t be a bad idea for us to just go back to hating each other.”

“I don’t hate you.”

“You sure?” He asked hopefully.“Maybe I could go to law school or something.”

“Why do you want me to hate you?”

“Because at least it would be something.” He looked away. “Something real. I knew you didn’t love me, but I hoped, I thought, after all the things we did… Stupid. But at least I know how to be hated; I know the rules there.”

“I can’t.” Buffy said truthfully. Not after everything. “I don’t think I could hate you again. Ever.”

“Covers a lot of territory, luv.”

“Can’t do it.” She insisted. “And don’t try and make me.”Wait. Wait.  Too soon to be the friendly ex-whats, she thought. Too soon to even try that; it seemed flippant to dismiss his feelings so soon, even dishonorable. “I’m sorry, Spike. I just can’t. Because I’d have to hate myself then, too, and I’ve done enough of that for the rest of my life, however long that’s going to be. But I don’t think I can hate you. Now.” She looked around. “Where should we start?”

“Got any bricks?” He asked wryly. “Because it’s like the world’s largest omelet back there. Need a hell of a big spatula back there.”

“Ew.”Buffy said.She looked away, then, uncomfortable, then grew still more nervous as the silence drew on and filled with the memories of kisses and embraces and more. Spike, running his hands through her hair as she undulated on top of him, sweaty and abandoned.Curling up together, fitting perfectly, as long as there were no words to make her think. Not looking at him now, not daring, she stared off to one side, and blurted out the thing on her mind: “What were you doing, Spike? What were you going to do with them?”

“Huh? Oh. Oh.” He lit another cigarette and perched on a broken pillar. “Holding them for a friend, that’s all.”  For a lot of money. So you wouldn’t have to work in that awful place for a while.

“You didn’t know what they were?”

He snorted disgustedly at his own carelessness, shaking his head. “When I think of all the stupid things I did that I didn’t get caught, and now there’s this…”

“Spike?”

“What, pet?”

She was looking away again, and he could practically feel the blood beating in her face. Her face must be as red as an apple by now.  “Would it feel better---Would it make you feel better if you hit me?”

Flummoxed twice in one conversation, he just had to laugh. He tried to remember the self he’d been five years earlier, and shook his head at the distance between that Spike and this one. “Can’t do it, luv.”

“Only if I don’t let you.” She said quietly. “I think I’d let you.”

“Why, pet?”

“Because I hit you. I shouldn’t have.”

“Don’t want revenge, pet.” I want you.

“I would.” Buffy said softly. “I’d want revenge.” She didn’t finish the thought. Because you couldn’t do that to someone you loved. If he hit her, she could convince herself that he didn’t love her anymore.

“Well, okay, then.” Spike said thoughtfully. “Want to make it up to me?”

“Yes.” No qualifiers there, he noted. She trusted him.

“Sure.”

She glanced down at her lap. He got up and scanned the crypt, searching for something.

Aha! He seized it with a triumphant cry.

It was a shovel. She looked from it to him, and back again.

“For starters,” Spike said quietly. “You get to clean up the omelet.”



Part Two: Beginning of Summer

“Ah.” Giles took the mug from her with a sigh of appreciation. This changed to consternation as he glanced inside, then sniffed it. “Chocolate?”

Buffy gave him a wry look. “Sorry. No alcohol in the house.”

“I’m supposed to approve?”

She raised her eyebrow as she sat down next to him. “Aren’t you supposed to be the Surrogate Parental Figure?”

Giles wrinkled his nose and sipped gingerly. He grimaced as if smelling something bad, then set the cup aside with regret. Buffy watched him do it and made sure he saw her watching him. “Ah.” He said by way of explanation.”Not much of a one for, ah, hot chocolate, I’m afraid.”He pulled out a silver flask.

“Giles!” Buffy leaned away as if afraid of something contagious. “You’re a wino!”

Giles took a swig, gave her a very English raised eyebrow, and took another. “Americans.” He set the flash aside, and stretched an arm around her shoulder, and smiled as she snuggled closer. “I didn’t miss that.”

“Miss what?” Buffy laid her head on his shoulder, but it felt like she was laying all her burdens on him for just a second. She breathed free of it all for a moment, then regretfully straightened up, shouldering everything all over again. Giles tightened his arm and pulled her back against him, hugging her in an almost embarrassed way, like a repressed Little League Coach.

“Well, there’s such a strain in Americans of being so---so----repressed in their opinions. There’s nothing wrong with alcohol.”

“Except for when you have problems with it, like me.” Buffy said acidly.

“Oh, Buffy, please.” He reached up to his face, and realized too late that he didn’t have his glasses on. The world tilted on its axis for a moment before he reached inside his coat pocket, pulled them out, and wiped them off. Balance was restored.“You’ve… had….what? Two episodes?”

“Both bad.” Buffy hastened to point out. She twisted her hands uncomfortably, sensing an oncoming lecture, but unsure as to what she could have done wrong. She actually hadn’t done anything, in fact, had avoided doing something, and could reasonably expect rare praise for it, but here was Giles, confusing her again.  “Hey! No fair!” She smacked him on the arm. “Ever since I became the Slayer, you’ve been the disapproving figure—“

“That was in regard to some of those skirts you insisted on wearing.”

“How come turnabout’s fair play doesn’t apply to tweed abuse, then?” She demanded. “And besides, there was lots more stuff, too.”

“Buffy, you were sixteen. I had to disapprove.”

“Well….”

“But you’re an adult now. You need more perspective. I must say, I’m rather disturbed. I really had no idea…”

“Giles?”

“Yes, sorry.” He put his glasses on and assumed Full Lecture Mode. It was so familiar, so Giles, that Buffy threaded her arm around his waist and squeezed. After a moment, during which he gave her a sober look that made her glance away, he adjusted his glasses on his nose with great seriousness and sighed. “It’s just that what happened during both those episodes?”

“Well, I went Four Million Years BC and had very bad hair and posture.”

“Buffy…”

“Well, I did.” She glanced at him. “And then I went drinking with Spike.”

“Ah.” Giles shifted “Well…” “Relax, Giles, that’s not, well, that’s not how that happened.”

“What happened?”

“Me and Spike.”

Giles stared at her. “You …and Spike.”

“I told you that already.”

“I thought you were joking.”

They stared at each other, Buffy feeling something slowly shrink inside. “Well.” She muttered. “I wasn’t.”

“Oh, dear.”

“It’s over.”

“Good Lord.”

“Would you stop?!”

“Well, Buffy…”He wiped his lenses ferociously. Buffy wondered how on earth he managed to do that so frequently without rubbing a hole in them, then figured he probably had a whole collection of glasses, just in case he wore them out. “I dare say, I had no idea you were serious.”

“I was.” She said softly.

They looked off into the back yard in silence. My life, Buffy thought. My fucking life. I could have gotten away with it, and nobody would have known.

“Did he hurt you?” Giles asked quietly.

She bowed her head. What an interesting question.She flinched at the memory of Tara, of herself, a conversation. Now Tara was gone, and who knew where Spike had gone to?What exactly had happened there? There was something else knocking at the edge of her brain, something she had resolutely refused to let in, something she couldn’t bear to look at. “We kind of hurt each other.”

“Are you…?”

God, why now? She thought. I could have used this months ago, but it’s over, it’s buried, and he’s gone. Why make me remember? “I’m fine, Giles, I’m fine.” “Did he..?”

“Huh?” She looked at him.

“Was it…?” He cleared his throat and looked away. “I understand, Buffy, if it’s a painful subject.”

Why would it be painful now? She thought. Why wouldn’t it be painful? She could feel some part of her personality, lurking, waiting to embroider the words she’d thrown at Spike in the bathroom, increase them, make them concrete, but she refused to allow it. Ask me again why I can’t trust you. She sighed, feeling a slow flush creep up her face. Ask me again why you can’t trust me.Being around Giles made her feel sixteen again, when black was black, and white was white. Where Slayers did not seduce vampires, and vampires did not fall in love.

 “No, Giles, it’s okay. I suppose there’s the freak factor to consider.” Then she flinched at her own words. Which freak? Me? Spike? Him for loving me, or me for calling him that?

“It’s just that, Buffy…He could have…”

“He could have.” She said flatly. “He didn’t.”

“Well…”

“Giles.” She snapped, then sighed. With some difficulty, she collected her thoughts, feeling Giles’ disapproval.She’d expected some disapproval, but he was tight-lipped. No, not that. He thinks I’m some floozy who boffed the first attractive guy I found, like it was nothing. I’m not. He loved me!“He loved me.”

Giles snorted. “That’s what he said.”

Buffy glared at him. “I didn’t just go to bed with him casually, you know, Giles. I knew he loved me. That’s the only way it was safe enough.”

“Buffy, you could have called me.”

“And said what?” She took a deep breath. “My friends yanked me out of heaven, and they want me to thank them for yanking me away from the first peace I’ve had in how long? No killing, Giles, no dead things, no death, just peace! I couldn’t even get used to it, I had to slay right away. What could I say to you? I couldn’t handle Dawn, I could barely handle myself. And I had to.And Spike…” Oh, God. Spike.

“You felt it when I was inside you.”  She had to look away so Giles wouldn’t see her eyes. The worst thing was, Spike had been right. The things she’d thought when they had sex, the way he made her feel, the things she’d said to him….He’d stopped telling her he loved her after awhile, seeing her face close down, but he’d kept kissing her, using kisses instead of words. Kisses made more of air and kindness than bodies and sensation, till she’d had to get up and run away, so he wouldn’t see her cry. Nobody could see her cry.

Especially not Spike.

“So you went to Spike? Buffy, I just don’t understand.”

She took a trembling breath. “He loved me, Giles, and…”She looked down, at hands that suddenly blurred. “Nobody else seemed to. They might have said they did, but I believed him.”

They sat in silence for a long while, Buffy gradually relaxing against his side till she was almost comfortable.

“You’re right, you know.” Giles said quietly. “I think he does love you.”

“Thank you.”

“And…I’ll be more than happy to listen, Buffy, at any time. It’s obvious I should have made that more clear.”

“No…”

“Yes.” Ah, yes, Buffy thought, he’s cleaning his glasses again.

She sniffled and he gave her another one of those amusing middle-aged English bachelor hugs. “I will call you.” She promised.

“You won’t have to.” He said dryly. “I don’t intend to leave for a great while. The situation with Willow…”

“Okay, Giles, I love the idea of having you here, but you’re here, and Willow’s in England.And you left me when I needed you because you felt it was better for me? Who are you helping again? I’m confused.”

“I suppose I deserved that.”

“No, I really meant it, I was serious. It’ll be good to have you here.” She sniffed quietly. “I will listen to you and take notes and make sure I listen to everything you say. As a matter of fact…” She reached around him for his flask. “You were right, too, it’s stupid to be…”

He grabbed the flask out of her hand, eyeing her seriously. She frowned at him, puzzled, because just a minute ago, he’d been telling her…

“Giles?”

“Thank you for illustrating what I was going to say.”

“Which was?”

“When you had that, ah, primitive, experience, you went drinking when you were depressed.And the time with Spike?”

She glanced away. Depressed certainly fit the bill there, too. Depressed, bored, frustrated, and well, only his company made her feel better…

“Yeah, sort of.” She muttered.

“That’s my point. You do things when you’re depressed that you should do when you’re happy, except when you’re happy, you don’t let yourself.”

“It’s scary.” She whispered.

“Then we’ll go gradually. You’re so impatient, Buffy, you always were. Must have everything so immediately. You can’t do anything that way, it’s got to be a bit at a time.”

“So you’re really serious about staying?”

“For as long as it takes.”

“Unemployment in Old Country not all it’s cracked up to be, huh?”

 Giles gave her a look that only English men seemed to be able to give; a raised-eyebrow, acerbic, “You-people-won-the-Revolution?” that American men couldn’t even dream of. “I could change my mind.”

“No, don’t.” Buffy grabbed his arm tightly. Some of the tension seeped away. The subject of Spike had been gotten past, what else was there? “It’ll be a sacrifice, but we’ll manage somehow.”



Part Three: Proportion

“Really, Buffy, it’s not as if…”

“What? I’ll wind up in a downward spiral after I develop a taste for the stuff, then sell myself on the streets for a bottle?”

This earned her an exasperated look from Giles, which, she realized, didn’t make her feel the way it used to.Funny how that happens. Once, she’d have at least kept up the pretense of obeying him, while resenting it, and feeling rather miffed. Now she soaked up his disapproval, and felt the earth slowly resume a comforting level beneath her feet.

Well, sort of. Actually, what it meant was that the linoleum was leveling beneath her feet, because they were in the kitchen, and metaphor with kitchen appliances was not her forte any more now than it had ever been. Giles, she noticed, did not take her look the same way he’d once have taken it, before the whole death mess. He gave her another one of those English looks, composed of wry disagreement, shreds of patience, and a suppressed spectacle-polishing tendency.  She sighed happily, then eyed the flask again with her patented lower-lip out thrust maneuver.

“What are you doing?” She enquired.

He was rummaging in the cupboards. “I know your mother had some…” At Buffy’s expression, he shrugged, smiling shyly.

“Don’t even think about saying one thing.” Buffy ordered.

“Ah, yes.”

“I’ve read Freud.”

He raised one eyebrow and she retreated an inch. “Cliff’s notes.”

He returned to the cupboard, but not before she heard a mutter beneath his breath: “Americans.”

“I might be American, but I’m not deaf.” Buffy said dryly.

This time, the glance he tossed over his shoulder was fond, and once again, Buffy felt the very air pressure change around her, lessening till her heart didn’t seem to be pressed in by the weight of the ocean.“You know I read once…”

Giles laid a hand on his heart like a virgin spinster seeing Elvis for the first time.

“Shut up.” Buffy said warningly.

“Ah, yes. Habit.” He placed two little crystal shot glasses on the central island. She nodded at the glasses.

“Isn’t that what they call addiction? Habit?”

“Oh, God, Buffy…” He took off his glasses and polished them. “There’s a proportion to everything.”

“Hey, I’ve seen…” She searched frantically for any movie she might possibly have seen, then realized that in the whole of last year, she had not once gone to a movie in a theatre. And had she even watched one on the television? Had she so much as glimpsed one while rushing out the door? “Stuff.”

“Yes, I suppose you have.” He unscrewed the top of the flask, and set the flask itself down on the counter. “My grandfather gave me that.”

“See? It does run in families.” She tried another look on him; the Buffy Summers, ‘damn, I’m cute look.’ Who was the last person she’d tried that out on? Not Spike, that was for sure. “Ahem.” She said for him. “So? I guess grandparents really do spoil the grandkids.”

“In the best way.” He sat down across from her, looking at his hands. “I shouldn’t have left.”

“I shouldn’t have slept with Spike.” She shrugged, then sighed at his wince. “Forget I said that.”

“I suppose….I have to ask, don’t I?”

“I clawed my way out of my grave, Giles.” She said softly. “And there was nobody there but demons invading Sunnydale. It was nighttime, it was dark…it was….there was fire.” She stared down at her hands. “They ran away and left me to claw my way out of the grave.”

He looked down again.”You said that you were in…?”

“Yes.” She whispered. She reached out a hand for the flask. Maybe Giles was right, maybe there was something to be said for…And Giles intercepted her, sliding the flask away.

“Buffy,” he said gently. “Not like this.”

“How then?”

“I’d suggest…” He covered the hand that had reached out for the flask with his own. “Cry it out, Buffy. That’s what you need. Then, it’s a restorative. But now it will make you more depressed, and that’s not what I’m here for.”

“What are you here for?”

“For whatever you need.”

Her throat closed, and the world blurred. He watched as she concentrated in staring at the counter, her chin trembling without artifice. Spike, he thought. All my fault. If I hadn’t left…

 “Stop that.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Ha! I saw that, Mr. Stiff Upper Lip and Think of England.”

He blinked at her. “Buffy!”

She raised her eyebrows at him. “You know,I have watched PBS now and then.”

He poured out a shot, and tossed it back. She sighed at him, partly triumphant, partly disappointed. “What about not when you’re depressed?”

“I’m not depressed. I’m…Buffy, I’m so sorry. All that’s happened, all the things you did.”

“Why do I get the feeling you’re referring to Spike?”

“It’s interesting that you keep mentioning him.”

“I have to explain, don’t I? You keep looking at me.”

“No, I don’t.”

“Yes, you do.”

“Buffy, in all seriousness, I don’t.”

“Well, then, what are you going to say?”

“Buffy, you’re an adult. There is very little I can advise you on.”

“When did that stop you? Besides, aren’t you supposed to disapprove of it? Isn’t that your job?”

“No, it’s not.” He said severely. “My job is to protect you, and I failed.”

“No, you didn’t.”

“Well, had I stayed, would…?”

“Spike and I?” How odd to say that out loud. Would it have happened if Giles had been around? The chip failing, the disconnection, the isolation---would Giles have made it better?She looked at him, and still couldn’t imagine telling him about the chip malfunctioning. He would have instantly staked Spike and….”I don’t know.” She said.

He squeezed her hand again. “Yes, you do, Buffy.” She glanced up at him, startled. “If I’m going to be here for very long, you have to stop doing that.”

“Uh…doing what?”

“What you just did. I think you do know, but you don’t want to say it to me, make it real. It’s very difficult, isn’t it?”

She stared at him for a long time. “Yes.” She said finally. Her hands took up her attention, then; she blinked at them. “I do think something would have happened, but there were things pushing us together.”

“And those things would be called….Xander? Willow?”

“Yes.” She whispered. “I just…I want Mom, Giles. I miss her so bad. I’m not grown up enough for this.”

“There’s nothing wrong with that.”

She took a deep breath. “I don’t mean I can’t talk to you, you know that, right? But there’s stuff I…I want to talk to a woman about. And Willow’s gone.” She finished mournfully. “I never had a chance to say goodbye, Giles. I wanted to. I wanted to be there. I wanted to build up to it, get used to it, but then…she was gone.”

He got up and sat down next to her, hugging her close. She sniffed a bit, determined not to blubber, but it was a struggle.

“Buffy,” Giles said quietly. “I understand you don’t like to, but I meant what I said earlier. Let it out. Cry if you have to.”

“And make everybody feel bad?” Buffy scoffed.

“I think,” Giles said tightly. “That when people make one feel bad, it’s perfectly acceptable to consider whether or not they should feel bad.”

“They’re my friends.”

“Where were they, then?” He demanded. Somehow, his precise accent made it sound worse. “Maybe you wouldn’t have wound up with Spike…”

“It wasn’t..totally….like that, Giles.” Buffy said.

“Still…You didn’t talk about it with them, did you? And why not?”

“They hate him.”

“At the moment,” Giles said, “I’m rather on the opposite side.”

She leaned back, staring at him, absorbing the shock. “Giles?”

“Yes, Buffy?”

“You’re scaring me.”

“I’d like to scare them instead.” He caught her dubious look and raised his chin at her. This gesture, the opposite of the fussy spectacle-polishing habit, had once stricken terror in the hearts of teenage girls’ parents all across England, and indicated he was about to do something not to be put on his resume. “As a matter of fact…” He started to get up and she grabbed her arm.

“Not now, Giles, really, please?Tomorrow, we’ll kick ass.”

“Literally, I think.” He said severely. It sounded like he was correcting Xander on his grammar, and for one second, she was back in the library.

“Ha. You don’t fool me.” She nodded at the flask, sitting proudly alone in expanse of the kitchen island like some ornamental centerpiece. “You’re just getting cold feet at the thought of turning me into a drunk.”

“Buffy.”  Once again, he gave her a wry look, and she looked around and expected to see comforting library books all around her, a cocoon not against vampires and beasties, but impermanent deaths and oblivious friends. With that, he poured out a bit in the second shot glass and handed it to her, but stopped her when she lifted it to her lips. “Stop.”

“Okay.”

“Smell it.”

“I beg your…. huh?”

“There’s an aroma to good Scotch.”

 “Ugh. Also, Eeewwww.” You and Spike, she thought. She sniffed at the glass tentatively. “Cough syrup.”

Another Giles look, another comforting frisson of familiarity. “Well, it does.”

“That’s good Scotch, I’ll have you know.”

“I’ll take your word for it.”

“No, don’t do that. I want you to close your eyes, and consider what it is you’re…experiencing.”

She rolled her eyes at him, but took a breath and did it. With her eyes closed, the medicinal scent modified into sharpness, clarity, and soft tones of scents she couldn’t immediately identify. Ah. Smoke, she thought. Smoke and spice. She opened her eyes and looked at him. “Now take a sip, but don’t swallow it. Hold it in your mouth. And close your eyes again.”

Obediantly, she did so. Rolling it around on her tongue, she listened to his voice, and tried not to grimace. “Did you know there are very different taste buds scattered throughout your mouth?”

“Ewww?”

“No, that’s true.” She could hear the thoughtful tone in his voice. “It’s just that I forget where they are, precisely. I know, for example-----“ Only Giles talks like a footnote, she thought-----“that they’re sweet and salt, and, oh, dear, I’ve forgotten the rest. Now open your eyes.” She did so, and gave him a perky look. “Still think it’s medicinal?”

“Uh..high class cough syrup,” She amended. This time, he rolled his eyes at her, and she beamed at him, feeling as if her world had undergone another little adjustment toward normality. “Giles?” She said suddenly.

“What?”

“Why do people always think it’s good for them to leave?”

He stared at her, then slowly raised his hand to his forehead to brush his hair aside. He didn’t remove his glasses, didn’t polish them, didn’t dither. He looked away for a moment, then up at her again.“Buffy…” He took a deep breath, then picked up her shot glass and downed everything she hadn’t.“It’s not whether they leave that’s important. It’s whether they come back.”



Part Four: Day and Night

So much for the old Slayer senses. She had been glancing stealthily, she thought, at Dawn, checking for any chin-trembling, any suspicious blinking, when finally Dawn turned and looked directly at her and snapped, “Stop that! You’re bugging me.”

 She glanced at Giles, and then away, curiously relieved. Dawn in a bad mood was normal, and this was good. Or maybe bad.What was normal for a teenage girl who didn’t technically exist; whose sister was a vampire slayer, and who had as friends demons and vampires?Was there a self-help book for that? Maybe the more important question was how did anyone react to two funerals in one year?And this of course had followed Joyce’s the previous year.Who knew how to deal with all that? In Buffy’s case, the deaths that had hit her hardest had been her own.

Giles turned into the driveway and turned off the engine. He took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. “I don’t know about you, Buffy, Dawn, but I’m really not in the mood to cook.”

“Me either.” Dawn said quietly. She’s talking, Buffy thought. More than I expected. “Could we just get something takeout? I don’t want to go to a restaurant.” She looked from Giles to Buffy, and shrank somewhat. “Unless you guys do.”

“Oh, no,” Buffy said. “I just want to eat in my jammies.”

“Perhaps we could compromise on that,” Giles said dryly. “I’d prefer not…”

“Yes, Giles, we know.” Buffy said. “You just don’t want to settle one of the big questions of my youth:Do Watchers wear pyjamas with little W’s all over them?”

This got her both a look from Giles and a smile from Dawn, so that had to be the best moment of the day. “C’mon, Dawn,” She said, climbing out of the car.

Dawn smiled again.”You—you rhymed!”

“I have all sorts of talents,” Buffy said expansively. “Including making sure Giles gets the maximum amount of cholesterol possible.”

“Yes, I know.”She saw he was wearing one of his pained looks. Where once his irritation had, well, irritated her, now it comforted her, because it was so normal. “Let’s all harden our arteries, shall we?” He imitated her California accent, and she had to smile again. With that, he pulled away, and she had to face the house.

When Willow had been sent off, Buffy had reclaimed her mother’s room. It struck her that she should have done this from the beginning, asserted her rightful place in her own house, but after Tara’s death, it somehow seemed necessary. Dawn hadn’t wanted to switch rooms, so she had moved Joyce’s bed into her old room, and there Giles slept, looking up at the ceiling.  She wondered if it kept him awake as often as it had her. She wondered if he thought of her mother. She wondered what memories arose out of the dark as he slept under blankets that still, no matter how often washed, had the faintest scent of Joyce’s perfume.

She unlocked the door and stepped quietly inside, tossing the keys on the table, not looking at the couch. Dawn touched her arm.

“We could all sleep downstairs tonight, you know.” She said hopefully. “Like a slumber party.”

“Maybe.” Buffy said. The truth was, she didn’t want to disappoint Dawn by refusing outright, but she wanted to be alone. Today, she desperately wanted to close a door between herself and other people, just to remember, and it didn’t look like it was possible. “There’s always the possibility of Giles ‘jamas.”

Dawn was hanging up her coat and her voice was muffled. “Now that’s scary.”

“What?”

“I’m not sure.” Dawn said thoughtfully. She flopped down on the couch in a way that made the springs sproing painfully.Maybe, with luck, if she did it often enough, the couch would break, and Buffy could douse it with gasoline and set fire to it in the backyard. Maybe that would get rid of the memory of her mother..

“What?”

“Well, you know, Giles and the whole pyjama thing. And saying ‘jama’?” She said skeptically. “Now I just picture him in those surfer shorts things.”

Buffy did her part to wreck the couch by flopping down beside Dawn. “Giles in jams and a Hawaiian shirt.”

That did it for her subconscious, which abruptly presented her with a mental image of Spike, soon after being chipped, wearing shorts and an old shirt of Xander’s. “Great,” she muttered. Dawn looked at her curiously. “I’m going to go change. You too?”

“Yeah, good idea.” Dawn gestured down at her nice, unusually serious outfit. “Want to get comfortable again.”

Don’t we all? Buffy thought.

In her room, in her new room, she flopped down on the bed and stretched. Hours and hours in the car, the itchy serious dress, the pantyhose…and then the funeral.  Ah yes, the uneral. Tara’s family, glaring with red eyes across the grave, as some inbred-looking minister from some off-brand religion mumbled on and on about sin and redemption. She heard the word ‘lesbian’ several times behind her, but didn’t bother to glare. Tara deserved better. She noticed the smarmy cousin was wearing dark glasses, and as she walked past her after the service, a sideways glance confirmed her suspicions; both of the girl’s eyes had been blacked. Is that why they’re mad? She wondered. It’s only okay if one of them does it to one of them? Keeping it in the family?

Her mind, which lately seemed to do nothing but betray her, then presented her with Spike. For days now, her rebellious brain had been confronting her with Spike at the most inopportune moments, and in the most unpleasant ways. So in the car after the service, she had found herself in the alley beside the police station, seeing Spike’s face as it changed under her fists, becoming something worse than Glory had made it. He trusted me.

Spike’s face over her, so different from the face she was used to, twisted, empty, almost unrecognizable.

“I can’t trust you.”

And then realizing, too late, that she had trusted him.

Worse yet were the dreams. Never of the bathroom; not once did her brain conjure up that particular horror. No, her brain was more insidious. When she slept, she found herself with him yet again, naked and defenseless, back when the person needing the defending had been him. The dreams were so vivid that once, as she reluctantly swam back from the depths of sleep, she had a mild orgasm that jolted her awake.

The dreams were why she’d started sleeping on the couch where her mother had died, hoping that that would end them. No such luck. Instead, she’d found her treacherous subconscious replaying the odd moments with Joyce and Spike, relishing the odd innocence of those days.

It hurt more than anything to close her eyes and find herself beneath him, able to indulge in things she hadn’t dared linger over before. The way his stomach muscles rippled as he thrust inside her; the way her head fit into his shoulder as he came; the way he stared into her eyes afterward, stroking her hair with one finger. He always looked her in the eye, and she always tried to look away. The feel of his skin, the arch of his back, the way they both stiffened as he thrust inside her for the first time. His arms beneath her fingers, the muscles there moving like quicksilver as he moved over her, under her, in her….She groaned aloud. Oh, God, the things she’d said to him, the things she’d whispered, overwhelmed at it all, the things he must have wanted to believe. But it had been so important to retreat, to save herself.

He was evil. She’d believed that. It was dangerous…

To who?

There’d been a night where nothing had gone wrong, where she’d had a nice day before coming to him. Usually she’d only gone to him when something had gone wrong, but that time…she had been in a good mood, and her feet had turned in toward him.  She’d come to his crypt and they’d actually kept their clothes on for a while, nestled together on his bed, chatting in whispers that turned to murmurs, and then to thoughtful silence. She’d never noticed the sound of kisses before, the sound of lips meeting and parting, mouths ravenous and hungry.It had been so vivid, so much more so than normal. And then…

She’d once had nightmares about Angel making love to her, vamping out at orgasm the way he’d done when he’d kissed her for the first time.What had scared her that particular day was not Spike vamping out at an uncontrollable moment, but …

It had started slow, as their voices faded away, and he stroked her hair with one gentle finger. Sex, she’d thought, as his face got that soft look. Just sex. But something about him had made her want to put her arms around him and cover him entirely, shield him from something she couldn’t name. She couldn’t even define the feeling, hadn’t known where it came from. Like everything to do with Spike, it had confused her terribly, even while she was urgently shoving his clothes away. It had been so hard to look in his eyes, because he never looked away from her, studying her like an artifact as if he had to preserve her face somehow. It was so….different. She’d always thought that making love had to be roses, candles, and stuff like that. According to Harlequin, there would then be lots of tender, gentle foreplay, to be followed by lots of nice friction and orgasm.Not like this. No roses, not what she’d call romance, except the way he kissed her.  He had only to touch her to arouse her, and she was the one who’d hurry to get him inside her, to push away obstructions so she could see him, feel him. Sex, or, rather, making love, in her experience had been a nice thing, but this…This…This was furious and hard. When they had sex, well, it was sex. Plain and simple. That was all. She wouldn’t go far as to call it just fucking, but she had no words to sum it up, the way he made her feel, except maybe confused.

 Usually it had been urgent and breathless, as arousal rolled through her veins and made her heart gallop. Usually, there’d have been ripping aside of clothes, and then, there was always a moment where she had to stop and look at him, at how beautiful he was. Riley had always insisted on covering himself with a sheet before and after, but Spike thought nothing of walking around naked casually, probably because he knew what it did to her.

That time was slow, something resembling her schoolgirl perception, and she’d thought, oh.  And then… Oh, no. Slow and soft, long, lingering kisses that made her weak and strong at the same time, opening her legs for his fingers and then his tongue, shivering, eager. She’d clutched at him with shaking hands, not even able to breathe, looking down her own body and seeing him between her legs, her hands fisted tightly in his hair. After she came, and pulled him up her body to her mouth, she could taste herself on him, and it had been scarily arousing. She had reached between them, finding his cock, watching herself do it, pulling him toward her, watching as he positioned himself and thrust inside her for the first time, freezing as if in pain.

 Not making love, just sex. It could only be sex when it had made her lock her legs around him and claw at his back, made her watch the way he thrust inside her, made her move with him until they were one thing, and cry out in time to his movements. It had only been sex, except for the way he had looked at her, except for the way he had kissed her, and held her with desperate hands, clutching her tightly, his forehead pressing against hers. It had only been sex, except for the way he kissed her when she came, lingering at her lips, then sliding inside her as far as he could and then further, setting off another aftershock. It had to have been just sex, because it couldn’t be a relationship. Relationship sex was nice, not like this. She had been afraid it would burn her up, and the idea that it had been just sex had been perversely comforting. They were just having sex, albeit, make-your-legs-weak-sex, but still sex. That was it, that was all. Therefore, they were not making love, and it was not a relationship.

 It had only been sex, except that when he came, when he stiffened and froze over her, he looked like an angel and not a vampire, chest heaving with panting breaths as it began to hit him, and then….

 He’d pulled out of her.He pulled out of her, as if afraid to come inside her, something only humans had to worry about, along with pregnancy and other consequences of sex, like love. He came on her stomach, so addled by orgasm that he forgot everything, including the fact that he wasn’t a man any longer.  The ecstasy on his face had twisted into confusion as his brain cleared. And she’d watched him, pulling him down to kiss her again, frightened of things that scared no one but her.

When they had had sex, he was making love, and she was having sex. He turned into someone else, then, a young man, barely out of boyhood, lacking any finesse at all, and having only passion. He gave her everything he had, and that included a glimpse at the man he might have become, had he lived long enough to grow up.  

 Dawn lingered outside her door, her shadow falling over Buffy’s bed, before knocking. “Hey.”

“Hey.”

“Nice PJ’s.”

“Oh, these? I save these for extra special occasions.”

“I’m a special occasion?” Dawn sat down tentatively next to her. Buffy craned her head. “I’m honored.”

“You’re always a special occasion.”

“Okay, not that’s laying it on a little heavy.”

“Sorry, just light headed from lack of hunger.”

“Which will be rectified shortly. Which still leaves the pajama question.”

“Well, I’m definitely pro-pajama.”

“A good thing. So does that mean you’ll be demonstrating your support for pajamas by choosing some?”

“Well, there are so many worthy candidates…” Buffy said, then had to give it up. She smiled up at the ceiling. “When in doubt, I go with a classic…” She got up and rummaged in her top drawer, pulling out a pair of plaid flannel pajamas. “What do you think?”

“A good, conservative choice.” Dawn said gravely. “Suitable for many occasions.”

Buffy looked at her and she looked soberly back. “How are you doing, Dawn?”

Dawn gave a huge, explosive sigh that seemed to inflate her whole body and then deflate it. “Don’t know yet.” She looked down, then back at Buffy. “You?”

Buffy grimaced wryly. “Don’t know yet, either.”



Part Five: Buffy and Anya

The pizza was pepperoni, the pajamas were silk, and the unexpected guest was Anya.

Buffy took them in more or less good grace, after a glance at the pepperoni and an eye roll at Giles’ PJs, which he’d carried in from the car. They were so awful that she wondered for a moment if he kept them in the car to scare away car thieves, and she briefly wondered about what sort of spell she’d need to protect her house from tacky sleepwear.  Anya was a little harder to deal with; they eyed each other cautiously, Anya’s lips compressing tighter and tighter with nervousness, before Dawn poked through the uncomfortable little group and grabbed the pizza for inspection.Giles followed, with a curious look back at Anya and Buffy, still standing in the doorway.

“There’s something to be said for an almost-apocalypse, isn’t there?” Anya said bravely. “Makes you forget all those stupid little rules about manners.”

“Yes, there is that.” Buffy said. She let out a big breath and stepped back, ushering her unexpected guest into the house and onto the couch, where they took up opposite ends and pillows, clutching them to their chests like shields. “Totally makes it easier to deal with smaller things.”

“Like being left at the altar.”

“Seeing your ex again.”

“Finding out you have to subcontract your own revenge.”

“Seeing the ex-boyfriend’s wife.”

“Having to deal with costly repairs.”

“Figuring out how bad your ex-boyfriend’s taste in women was.”

That got Anya’s attention. “Which ex?” She demanded suspiciously.

Buffy glanced up from staring pensively at the coffee table. “Huh?” Oh, hell.Riley, okay? I meant Riley and the Wonder Wife.”

“Oh, good, because….”

Crap.

“Because that had nothing to do with bad taste.” Buffy assured her. “I know.”

“Maybe a little revenge, though.” Anya said thoughtfully. “I’m glad it pissed Xander off.”Buffy glanced at her skeptically, eyebrows raised. “I was,” she insisted. She paused. “No, I was. I was…” She tried to take a deep breath but something trembled in the middle of it, and she swallowed hard. “I was glad it made him jealous. After I realized there was no way to turn his intestines into silly string, that is.”

“Okay, I’m keeping you away from the public.” Buffy said. “But how would you like it if I turned you loose on some local vampires?”

Anya smiled. “I could do with that.” She frowned, more forlorn than angry.

“I still miss him. I’ll be thinking of him when I kill something, but it’s not going to make the missing part go away. Even though everybody comes before me.”

“That’s not true.” Buffy said automatically.

“How would you know?”Anya said.“You’re one of the…bodies.”

“But I’m like a hobby.” Buffy said. “You’re…his life.”

Anya sniffed, wiping her nose on her sleeve. There was something childlike about the gesture that saved it from being vulgar. When she lowered her arm, though, she was back in charge. “So who dumped who?”

“Huh?”

“You and Spike. Who dumped who?”

“Me. I du---I told him I couldn’t see him any more.”

“Why?”

“Well…” Buffy said, regretting her candor. That was one of the problems with Anya; she was so new to the human business after a thousand years as a demon that she tended to get impatient with the niceties and charge right on through them.“It was me. He was…” The look on wonder on his face that first time, as he’d realized exactly what she was doing, sliding down on top of him…That look would haunt her till she died.

“Why? It’s not like he was bad in…Oh. Huh.” Anya assessed Buffy’s reaction.“That’s Xander’s look. That’s the look he always gives me when I say something like ‘orgasm’ or nipple’ in public.” Anya looked disgusted. “Like there’s an easy way around those terms. I suppose I could just make things up, like, ‘oh, that pointy thing on my breast’ or ‘that big---“

Buffy cleared her throat and Anya sighed explosively, wriggling down into the cushions of the couch. “I was dating a vampire.” Buffy said. “A Slayer and a vampire, dating.”

“You weren’t dating. You were having sex. We never saw you in public with him.”

“No, guess not.” Buffy had to agree with that one.

“Was he pissed?”

“What?”

“Well, I’d be pissed, you know. Actually, I was pissed.That’s what Xander used to do to me.”

“Huh?”

“Oh, you know, we’d have sex together, and then he’d try to ignore me. Didn’t work, either, did it?” She demanded proudly. “Till now, at least.” Her face fell, but then she sniffed ferociously, and squared her shoulders. “But I don’t care, either way.”

“He’s not ignoring you, he’s…”

“I don’t care, really.” Anya repeated, with more firmness. “He can do whatever he wants. It’s none of my business.”

“How is your business?” Buffy asked, rather too eagerly. Anything to get her off the whole subject of Spike, anything to steer her into less hurtful conversational waters.

“Under construction.” Anya muttered. “Wouldn’t you know it, too. I bet Xander would have given me a discount. A good one, too. At least until the Spike thing…”

“Uh..”

“He was so hurt, you know.” Anya said, while Buffy had to look abruptly. “I’m a thousand years old, I know men. They always say stupid things when they’re hurt, no matter how old they are. Five years old? ‘I didn’t want that red pen.’ Fifty years old? It’s, ‘I don’t want that red Ferrari anyway.’

“He said…He didn’t want me?”

“No. He said…He said….’she was so raw.’ And other things I’ve forgotten. So why did you dump him again?”

“Because…”Buffy stared up at her, seeing Anya’s face, but when she looked down at her hands, all she saw was a blur.I was raw, and no one else saw it. “Because I just couldn’t keep doing that to him.”

“What, boinking him? I’m sure he minded.”

“No, being dishonest.” Buffy looked down again, trying to avoid that bright clear gaze. “I didn’t love him.”

“So?”

“But he loved me.”

“That’s not your fault.”

“No, I shouldn’t have…”

“Well, it’s over, right? Besides, how do you know you didn’t love him? I didn’t think I loved Xander, at least I didn’t want to think that I did. But it turns out, I did. I just thought it was indigestion.” She examined Buffy with a critical eye. “Has your stomach been upset lately?”

Giles’ big concession toward not spoiling the ambiance of the slumber party was to loosen his tie, eat his pizza with his hands, and toss back a tumbler of Scotch with every piece of pizza. After the second slice and the second glass, he removed his tie entirely, leaned back on the couch, and rubbed his eyes wearily.Dawn, sitting on the floor and munching on pizza, caught him blinking slowly with weariness and cleared her throat. “Huh. I ate so much I’m going to explode. Pajama time.”Buffy and Anya, working their way through the pizza with thoroughness if not enthusiasm, glanced up, then at each other. They all exchanged glances again, and Buffy, as hostess, took the lead. “Well, then, it’s pajama time.” She tried to stare sternly at Giles but he gave her a weary look that contained so much skepticism that she slunk away, abashed. It was a relief to troop upstairs with the other girls, even if Anya going along, puppy-like, was unexpected. Guess she’s staying the night, Buffy thought, but it wasn’t as disturbing as it might have been. Bigger fish to fry, bigger disturbing things to worry about.  Even in a Slayer’s life, having your best friend try to end the world was…not in the handbook. Of course, having friends had never been in the handbook. And then there was Xander going off to England with Willow. Xander, in a foreign country? She couldn’t understand why, but it was somehow comforting to have Anya around, even though she kept, well, wondering….

Wondering what he was like with Anya.

Nope, not gonna go there.

Boy, Riley and Spike both got over me reeeeeeaaaaaaaaallllll fast.

Not that fast, she thought, stepping into the bathroom to grab her big old terrycloth bathrobe. Not that fast at all.

She had to look at herself in the mirror to make sure she was still Buffy on the outside, when her insides felt like they’d vanished. All composed, that was her. She slept with his memory these nights, remembering all the things she’d refused to allow herself to acknowledge before, but her days were haunted by flashes of things seen out of the corner of her eye, sudden whispers at her ear.  A bright blonde head of hair on a man might make her whip around on the street, just before she regained enough control to scoff, Ha. A vampire in the day. Yeah, right. But then, five minutes later, she’d find herself catching glimpses of a certain style of movement, the curve of a face... She heard voices now that she’d never bothered to listen to before, her ears catching sound of every tenor voice that came to the cash register. At night she found herself remembering the kisses at her ear, the way his hand curved around her waist, her face, and her shoulder…. Should have paid attention. Now it was possible to look back and recognize those gestures for what they’d been, and realize exactly what her obliviousness meant. If you don’t let yourself see what you’re doing, it doesn’t happen. She’d kissed him before, before all the sex, but that stopped once they slept together, along with the intimacy they’d had. She’d never noticed, never allowed herself to notice, how it changed after the first time they had sex, but she kept finding herself in her dreams beneath the stair at the Bronze, kissing a man who kissed like a boy, eager and anxious and sweet. That was where it started, she thought. And then, looking at herself in the mirror, she saw him again at her feet in the alley, more wounded than she’d ever seen him, and thought, and that was where it ended. This is me, and I did that. Having sex with an evil, soulless thing was not as bad as doing that to someone who loved me. I did that. I really did that.

I just wanted it to stop…

She turned and glanced past her shoulder, half expecting to see him. Another fun trip to the bathroom, she thought. Dawn had become very appreciative about how Buffy had suddenly stopped taking those last days of Pompeii type baths that lasted for hours.

What was the big surprise? Evil soulless thing and all….Except what was her excuse? I came back from the dead. Well, he was dead. Are we even?

His face, afterward.

Her feeling, afterward. It’s over. I can say it’s over now. Everything I thought you were, you finally turned into. What a relief.

Except it’s not over.

It’s not as if it’s the first time, her subconscious whispered, coming out to play when her defenses were down.

What?

Not as if it’s the first time somebody tried, her brain teased. You can’t even remember it. You won’t remember it.

No. Not a chance. Just…him.

That’s what you think.

I’m the Slayer. I get attacked all the time.

Not like this.

“Hey! Bathroom hog!” Dawn pounded on the door. “Open up or I’m coming in. Put down that Tiger Beat.”

“Why,” Buffy asked, “Is it okay for you to read it but not for me to monitor your reading material?”

“Because it’s such a realistic excuse.” Dawn said. “I know you like ‘N’Sync.”

“They’re a sign of the next Apocalypse.” Buffy washed her hands, and took far too time much doing it, while Dawn crossed her arms and sighed impatiently.Buffy then flicked drops of water at her, and she scrunched up her face in order to obey the guidelines for obnoxious sister interaction, but bounced, because they hadn’t had a water fight in ages. Dawn happily stuck out her tongue at her, then grabbed her around the waist to shove around her and grab her toothbrush. All too vividly, the gesture slipped into someone else’s, intimate and sudden.

“I’ll make you feel it…”

“Buffy?”

“Oh..” Buffy shook herself free. “It’s just, well, I’m gaining weight again.”

“Looks good.” Dawn spit into the sink between vigorous tooth brushings. “Does that mean your lavender camisole is too small and I can have it now?”

“Sure.”

She slipped out of the room before Dawn could notice anything, say anything.

Anya was puttering around the other room, evidently bumping over furniture while she changed. Good. Just good. Not now. She sat down weakly on the bed, staring at the bathroom door, expecting it to open and see him there. Afraid to see that face, afraid to see him the way she was accustomed to. Because who knew when he would change?

He hadn’t been angry, hadn’t been hateful. He’d been desperate. That was the thing that clutched at her. He’d been so, so desperate, so frightened, so…..lost…..and that was what she wondered about. It was an unknown state for him.It was so human. For the time of their relationship, she’d been the vampire, not him. And then everything had gotten switched back. That was what made her thoughts circle around in her brain like water circling a drain, except she couldn’t get them past some central dam, some block that she couldn’t see. Had that possibility, that action, been lurking within him the whole time, waiting for the right-or wrong- time? Had she really been right all along? How much danger had she been in? What about Dawn?

No, she thought. No, she would never believe that. He’d almost died defending her, not once, but twice.

He wanted to die for me, too.

Different, that was different.

How?

Because you were the one who changed things.

She saw again his face, as she maneuvered, as he realized what she was doing.After the fight, the words, the kiss, there had no place for all her emotions to go….except him. Oh, God, that kiss….There had been no moment where she could stopped it, would have stopped it.Naked, with him, she had felt…almost innocent. Except afterward. She kept coming back to that moment. I shouldn’t have done that. He thought it meant love, but for her it was something else.

She was whipped back to the alley, staring down at a face she couldn’t allow herself to see. Why hadn’t it happened, then, after she’d beaten him so badly? Why hadn’t he been so frightened then? Why hadn’t he reacted? Why hadn’t he reacted that way then? What had done it?

Unless he was used to it.

Unless it was normal.

Unless being beaten by her didn’t scare him.

Her leaving? That scared him.

What had she done to him?What had he done to her?

He was a vampire; he wasn’t a man, however much he acted like it. But that? Why hadn’t he reacted when she’d beaten him? He hadn’t even resisted, she realized, before a mental wince pulled her back from the scene. What if he had? What would she had done?

Nausea made the blood in her veins feel thin. Would I have staked him? She thought. No, I wouldn’t have. I couldn’t have. I’m not that bad a person.

But what did I do afterward?She’d left him in the alley to tend to himself. It would have been braver to just stake him. But she had taken the easy way, not doing anything bad, but not doing anything good, either. Or honorable. Just…

Nothing.

Was that why he hadn’t come back after what he’d tried to do?

Was that why she wanted him to?

“Buffy….”

She turned and looked up at Giles in her doorway, Scotch in hand. “There’s pizza left, and I’ve eaten all I possibly can, for this year at least.”

“Giles…”She took a deep breath. “Drink some more. We have to talk.”



Part Six: Differences

Dawn peeked around the bathroom door, hesitating. Giles raised his empty glass and nodded back toward the stairs, then tactfully withdrew.Buffy sighed, knowing she had just committed herself to reliving one of the most painful memories of her life, not once, but twice.

“C’mon in.” Buffy patted the bed next to her.

That was all she needed; Dawn plopped down agreeably next to her sister and stared at the bathroom door, too. “So…”

“So.” Buffy repeated.

“You…you don’t have to give me your camisole.” Dawn blurted out. “It’s okay.”

“No, it’s okay.” Buffy said. “I can’t fit into it any more.”

“You don’t mind?”

“Nope.”

“Okay.” Dawn looked again at the bathroom door, trying to figure out what it had done to annoy her sister, but it looked blameless to her, and besides, Buffy was now eyeing the carpet. “So…Kind of unexpected, Anya, huh?”

“Yep.” Buffy said. She caught the tone of Dawn’s voice, and shrugged an arm around her sister’s shoulder. “It’s okay, Dawnie, I’m just….pizza’d out.”

“That’s it?” Dawn squeaked.

“Yes, fraid so. No melodrama here.” Unless you count those flashbacks, she thought.

“Oh. ‘Cause I heard you saying to Giles you wanted to talk. Not good. Never good. Mom and Dad always had lots of those talks, remember?” Conscious, suddenly, of the flow of words gushing from her own mouth, Dawn shut her mouth with a snap, and laid her head with some difficulty on her sister’s shoulder.She counted to ten before she spoke again. “Was it about Spike?”

“Yes.” Buffy said quietly.

“Was it about….what he tried to almost do?”

Buffy hesitated, but took a breath and answered. “Yes.” Abruptly, she turned and looked at her sister, or more correctly, the part in Dawn’s hair.“What did Xander tell you?”

“He said…something about ‘after Spike almost raped your sister’.” Dawn said in a small voice.

Oh, God, Buffy thought. “I don’t know what to say, Dawn.” Except…that did sound like Xander was responding to something. “What did you say just before he said that?”

“Something about Spike.” She mumbled. “Something about how Spike would know

what to do or something. You know, and then Xander….”

And then Xander had to get his shot at Spike in.It’s not like Dawn needs to know this stuff, she thought. It’s not something she should have heard from anybody but me, especially when I’m still trying to deal with it. “Damn.” She muttered. “Damn, damn, damn.” Dawn’s lost Mom and Tara, if it’s going to Spike next, it’s not Xander’s job, dammit. She tried to stamp down the anger, but it wasn’t subsiding the way it should “It’s not like Xander can criticize,” Buffy exclaimed before she’d thought about it. “He—“tried to rape me himself.

And then, stunned, she sat there with her mouth open and her eyes wide.

Of course.

She’d forgotten. Or made herself forget. Spells, possessions, stuff like that. Always something else. Xander had been possessed by a hyena or some other creature at the time, and then he’d said he had amnesia afterward. He had tried to bewitch into making her love him again, but he had hated being on the receiving end of Willow’s de-lusting spell later on, and she had thought that he had learned his lesson. Of course, she had been proven wrong when she’d discovered he’d been the one to summon the dancing demon---and the deaths that came with that spell.  Then again, neither had Willow, she thought.She got chills just thinking about it. My friends. The friends that brought me back.

After Spike almost raped your sister. He used what Spike tried to do to me to make Dawn hate him, too.  Gotta take advantage of that Spike-hating opportunity. Shouldn’t he hate Spike because of what he tried to do? Shouldn’t he? Wasn’t that fair? After all, he himself had been under a spell the other time.

Which other time? If she had forgotten that one, what else was there?You always forget what your friends do, she thought sadly, and remember your enemies’ actions forever. 

Dawn waited for the talking to resume, then finally looked uncomfortably at her sister. “You know, you’re supposed to talk now.”

“Sorry. Brain fart.”

“Oh, okay.” Dawn accepted the explanation. “Your brain farts are quiet; mine are so noisy.” She bounced on the bed a moment. “Uh…Did Xander have a brain fart when he said that?” She asked in a small voice.

“Kind of.” Dawn lit up instantly, her mouth opening wide. “You mean, Spike didn’t…” One look at Buffy’s face and she quieted down. “No such luck, huh?”

“Dawn….” Buffy reached down and grabbed her hand. “You know…I want to explain that to you.”

“Why? He, what, he tried to, to…?” She sniffed.

“It’s not like that.”

“Was it, like, a mistake?”

Buffy stared at the bathroom door for a long time. ”Yeah, it was.” She ran her hands through her hair.

“Do you think…”Dawn tucker her legs under herself nervously. “Do you think he could…be like that…with anybody else? I mean, Anya…?”

“That was different, Dawnie.” Buffy said quietly. “I broke up with him, and I, uh, I, well…He loved me.” She muttered. “And he wanted to believe that I loved him.”

“Did you?”

“No.” Buffy said firmly.

“But you and he…And then Anya.I saw you. You were all upset. I mean, you got all…all quiet and stuff, the way you do. How can you, you know---“ Dawn grimaced. “You guys were, you know, ugh, having sex, right?”

“Yeah.” Buffy muttered again.

“Well…” Dawn grumbled. “That’s a big deal, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, yeah, it is.” Buffy said. “But how was I supposed to tell anybody after I came back?”

“You could have told me.” Dawn whispered. “I would have loved to know. I would have listened.”

“I couldn’t.” Buffy tried hard not to sniff. “I was supposed to protect you.”

“From what?” Dawn’s voice broke. “From you? You’re my sister, it’s supposed to go both ways. You protect me and I protect you.”

“You know…”Buffy took a deep and shaky breath. “There’s some things you can’t protect people from.”

“But you have to let them try. No, wait, let me guess. I’m only sixteen, I shouldn’t be dealing with stuff like that. You know, Buffy, just because you’re the Slayer doesn’t mean you have to do everything.” She got up and sat down at Buffy’s vanity, turning the chair sideways so she could look at her. “I mean, is that what you did with Spike?”

 Buffy stared at her. Actually, yes, was the thought that she had, but she couldn’t say that. “You know, Dawn, you make it sound like, like, it’s understandable….”

“No!” Dawn jumped up and flopped down beside her, hugging her fiercely. “No, not that. No. But, I want to know what’s wrong. I was so happy to have you back, I wanted to---well, I’m not exactly sure, but I wanted to…do stuff. Be supportive and stuff. Whatever that means. I’m not exactly sure what that means, really, but I’ll go look it up. I want to know. I was so lonely without you, but then you came back, and it’s like you still weren’t here. I could see you, but you weren’t really here.”

“That was…” Buffy’s voice dropped to a breath. “That was all I could do.”

“If I’d have helped you, you could have done more.” Dawn hesitated, then reached out and grabbed Buffy’s hand. “If…if….things had been better….Do you…think….Do you think it would have been the same?”

“The same?” Buffy looked at her blankly.

“With Spike?”

The question startled her. “What do you mean..?”

“Well, you and him…?”

She tried to think back, back to the beginning of the year, something she tried to avoid doing, because it all seeped together into one big mess.  Sometimes she woke up from peaceful dreams of the refuge where she’d been, and it was just as awful as waking up in her coffin. I couldn’t tell them, she thought, because that would have made them feel bad. And they knew it, too. She couldn’t get over that impression, that they had known, and it had been too much for them to bear. She hadn’t had the strength to force the issue, not against all of them.  Only Spike was safe. The only person she could tell was him, and in some way she had known that part of it was because he loved her so, and part of it was because the rest of the Scoobies were eyeing them uneasily, unwilling to say something about the time they spent together.To say something would have given the idea a force it couldn’t have as a mere suspicion. By the time she’d actually told them about where she’d been, it had been too late. Spike had become her refuge, and what she escaped from with him were her friends. If they had been there from the get-go, what would it have been like?

What would it have been like?

She remembered that first kiss, after the spell, outside the Bronze. Oh, it was sweet. What if she could have admitted to her friends what was developing between them? She couldn’t admit anything to them, much less to Spike. What would it have been like if she could have? She wouldn’t have had to end that kiss for fear of being found out, she wouldn’t have had to hide. The kiss could have gone on and on till it found a natural end, whether the Scoobies observed it or not. No rush when it abruptly ended, no desperation to find that feeling again, that connection.After all, someone who’s been pulled out of Heaven should be allowed to kiss whoever she wanted. There would have been a conversation, like all the conversations she had been having since she came back.Because of course, that’s what your friends are for, helping you with your worries, not ignoring them. A troublesome kiss that made you feel alive when everything else seemed deadening?  No hiding it, just time to deal with it. Maybe they would have argued a little about it, her friends, but the point is, it would have been dealt with. Couldn’t do that when you couldn’t even admit something was wrong in the first place, could you?

Was he just a substitute for her friends? Was that all? She stopped trusting them and started trusting him instead?

She thought back to his arms around her, the way he kissed her, the way he moved. No, Spike was no substitute. She thought about it. Dating Spike in front of her friends? If she had had time to get used to the idea? Given them time?

She squeezed Dawn’s hand. “Things would have been different, Dawnie.” She sighed. “I think they would have been lots different.”

“Uh…different good or different bad?” Dawn asked cautiously.

No abrupt sex after a fight, she thought. What could it have been like? Had she really been that pissed off at him? Or was it them, the people she couldn’t get pissed off at, the people who were supposed to be her friends? I started treating him like a vampire again, after I treated him like a man, she thought. A good man.

“Different better.” She said softly. “I did stuff I shouldn’t have. And so did he.”

“You make it sound like…?”

“Like what?”

“Well, like, I don’t know.” Dawn shrugged. “This is real complicated for me.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, Xander said he tried to rape you. So, I just, thought, you know…I have this idea what it was like. Like the way he said it, it was like, almost….” She chewed her lip for a moment. “Like, well, he wanted to have sex with you or something. And that was all. I don’t know. I can’t explain it.”

Like he wanted to have sex with you or something.

Oh, God.

I wish that were all he wanted.

Buffy swallowed. “Xander was wrong, Dawn.” She looked down at their hands. God, I’ve messed up every other relationship, please don’t let me mess this up. “He wanted me to love him. And he kept thinking that I did, that I just didn’t want to admit it.”

“Did you?”

“I don’t know.” She shrugged at Dawn’s skeptical look. “It’s not like I’m any good at it.” She chose her next words carefully. “He loved me, and he thought, well, he thought, that…Oh, God, you know, I thought I could say this, but I just can’t.”

“Was I right?”

Buffy thought about it. “And Xander was wrong?”

“Yeah?”

“I think so.” She closed her eyes, the sound of her voice echoing off the tile ringing in her ears. He was so desperate. So was I. How do you tell a sixteen-year-old stuff that twenty-one-year-olds can’t deal with?

You don’t.

 “Xander shouldn’t have told you.” Buffy said quietly. “That was none of his business.”

“But what if…Should I be afraid of him? Of Spike?”

Buffy thought about it. “No, Dawn.” She smoothed Dawn’s hair with one finger. “I don’t think so.” She took a deep breath. “He didn’t want to hurt me.He wasn’t trying to hurt me.” She sighed, but it shook, somewhere in the middle. “But he did anyway.He wasn’t trying to….but he did…” She sighed. “If he had, I mean, that would have been different.” She sighed again. “I wish I were better at this stuff. I wish I could explain it. I just can’t.I…trusted him. Even though he was a vampire, I trusted him. I never thought… Oh, God, Dawnie…I don’t know how to explain this….I do the best I can, but the only thing I’m really good at is killing things. I just have to sort of feel my way around, Dawn, and it’s hard. So don’t look at me for a really good role model, okay?”

“That’s okay.” Dawn said reassuringly. “I mean, I stopped asking you for fashion advice a long time ago.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Well,” came Giles’ voice from the doorway. “It means that both of us have an excuse for our haute couture faux pas.” He looked down at both of them, and Buffy felt her nerve shrivel. Oh, God. How much did he hear? How much did he hear?



Part Seven: And then

Buffy stared up at Giles, and Dawn stared at Buffy. Buffy’s afraid of Giles? She thought, but that notion was instantly gone. Made almost as much sense as being afraid of Sp---Well, lots of stuff used to make sense. She eased away, clicking the bathroom door quietly shut as she went. She passed through it, then stepped out into in the hall, stopping and looking in both directions. Tara’s absence hit her again, and she didn’t know where to go. Tara’s room; Buffy’s now, and once it was Mom’s.  Buffy’s going to talk about something disturbing with Giles, and I don’t have Tara to talk to. Once she had so wanted to know everything that went on, and now she wanted nothing so much as to give back everything she had learned. The things about Spike, the things about Willow...Why couldn’t she forget all those, then? With a very adult-sounding sigh, she slipped into her room, and closed the door as if it could hold back adulthood too.

Giles saw an expression on his Slayer’s face that he had trouble identifying. Oh, yes. Fear.  Of what? He watched as she slowly relaxed and loosened up, and had the momentary thought, of me. But that was patently ridiculous. There was no way she could be afraid of him...He would never disapprove of her. Clothes, grammar, maybe. But not her.

They stared at each other, and then Giles blinked. That seemed to snap the tension in some way. Buffy, after a moment’s freeze, gave an exaggerated sigh, and managed to look bored. Good job, looking bored. Come full circle. I used to be afraid of pissing him off, and now I’m afraid of…what, exactly? What if he tells me to cope with it by myself again?  

Why do I feel so guilty?

Giles raised his drink. “Will I need more, do you think?”

Buffy shrugged. “Yeah, Giles. I think you definitely will.”

“Well, I’ll start with this.”

Rather like an uninvited guest, Giles hesitated at the doorstep a moment and then gingerly stepped across the threshold.  “So..” He set his drink down carefully, and sat down at the vanity. Once she would have smiled at the sight. Now it just seemed like another upside-down sight, Giles at her mother’s vanity, yet another incongruous sight in a life full of nothing but.

Where do I start?

“Giles...” Buffy started, then gave up with a sigh.

“What?”

“Well.....” She slumped. “I just don’t know how to say this.”

“Just say it.”

“That would be unfair.”

“To whom?”

“Spike,” she muttered. “It would be unfair to Spike.”

“I’m just wondering exactly what constitutes unfair when one is discussing a vampire known as the Scourge of Europe.” He glanced at her, then away, somewhat abashed. “Sorry.”

She looked suspiciously into his glass. “Are you going to be like that?”

“No, no, I’m fine.” He squared his shoulders. “Go on.”

“Giles...”

“No, really, go on.”

“You don’t approve.”

“Well, Buffy...” He shifted uncomfortably on his chair. “It’s just that I get the distinct impression you’re protecting him, and will disapprove of me if I criticize......Spike.”

After a moment’s thought, she said, “You’re right.”

“Spike was always good at defending himself.” Giles said dryly, and Buffy winced.

“Not...good enough, Giles. Not good enough.” She got up and stretched, then sat down again. “I, uh...It’s just that....It’s, uh.....You remember you said I needed to grow up?”

“I...ah, didn’t, say it exactly like...”

“That was the basic message,” Buffy contradicted gently. “And I really wouldn’t recommend you try it again with somebody else. It...didn’t work really well.”

“I know.” Giles stared into his drink. “I know.”

“But you are here, now, though.” Buffy said. “You came back, and I feel more grown up already, you know?” She had to sniff for a moment. “Is it bad that I want...you here?  Is that ungrownup?”

“No,” Giles whispered. “No, not at all.” He got up and sat next to her on the bed, wrapping an arm around her shoulder. “No, not after your year. I..” He made a tsking sound under his breath. “I really should never have....”

“You know?” Buffy leaned away and looked directly at him. “You’re here. You came back. Stop apologizing, okay? You are required by contract to issue only one heartfelt apology, as long as you keep your butt here as long as needed. Anything above that, and I’m going to have to pay you overtime or something.”

He took off his glasses. “It’s just that every time I hear Spike’s name, I keep thinking that if I hadn’t left, so much unpleasantness wouldn’t have happened.”

“So much unpleasantness?”

“Xander...” Giles said quietly. “He did mention some things.”

“Which things?” Buffy demanded.

“He said that Spike...” Giles had to glance down, then, grimacing. “He said Spike slept with Anya, and then tried to....”

“Oh, God, I am going to kill him!” Buffy exclaimed, jumping to her feet. She stomped to the bedroom door, snapped her arms across her chest, and whirled around to face him. “You know, Xander’s not exactly the poster child for normal relationships, and he doesn’t know what went on between Spike and me, and he never got over that crush he had on me, and he’s the one dating the ex-demon who used to castrate men, and furthermore, he left her at the altar! He’s dated an insect and a mummy, and a Slayer, and he’s, he’s... Well, okay, he didn’t date her, but hey.....”

“Buffy....”

“Giles, don’t look at me like that.” What is this? Am I looking for his blessing? “Stop.”

“Well, Buffy, it’s just that Xander, despite all his flaws, is human.”

“Yeah, so?  He told Dawn that Spike tried to rape me, why did she need to know that? Why would anybody think she needed to know that?”

“Well...” Giles said wearily. “You have to admit that there is some danger....”

“Of Spike raping Dawn?” She crossed her arms tighter, till she was practically hugging herself. “No, there’s not, Giles.”

“Buffy, I know you’re fond of him, still, but you have to think of Dawn.”

“I wish I weren’t the only one. Did she need to hear that from Xander? He sure got over Anya’s past fast enough once they started,” she shrugged uncomfortably, “you know.”

“Buffy...Spike is a vampire. That’s always a risk.”

“Yeah, it was such a risk you left me here with him.”  With that, she slapped a hand over her mouth. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it.”

Giles gave her a pained smile. “No, Buffy, you have every right to say that.”

“But it just doesn’t go away.”

“Maybe it will? Eventually.” He pulled off his tie. “Maybe, Buffy, it’s that you’re saying things to me which you should be saying to Xander?”

“Oh.” She seemed to shrink in front of him. “I can’t, Giles, I can’t.”

“Buffy, the fact that you can’t....Well, I can’t help but think that’s very bad.”

“But I’m so mad at him! How can I say that? Because I should be feeling that he’s right, but I don’t. He’s always thought that Spike was evil....but...but....there’s being evil, and there’s doing evil. Spike did a lot of...” She sighed heavily. “You were here this summer. Spike deserves something for that, for caring about Dawn, even when he never thought he’d see me again. And Xander......I don’t even have the vocabulary for this, Giles!  I’m really pissed off at him! It wasn’t his business to say that to Dawn, and, besides, how come he’s so mad at Spike? It’s not like----”

“Buffy, he is your friend, and the thought that someone had tried to rape one’s friend...”

“He tried to himself.” Buffy muttered.

“I beg your pardon.”

“He tried to rape me himself.”

“Spike, we’re talking about Spike?”

“No, Xander.”

“Xander? But...Xander....” He stared off into space, running over events in his mind, trying to picture it. “When was this?”

“That hyena thing.”

The spell. The ‘amnesia.’ He had helped Xander by keeping his secret—and here was one of the secrets. “He-he--was possessed, Buffy.”

How possessed?” She muttered. “How possessed was he then? Kind of funny he didn’t try it on the first girl who came along. He waited for me.”

“Ah....well....”

“So.” She said briskly. “Do I tell Dawn that, too? Because I’m pissed off at him now? I mean, she’s lost Mom, she’s lost Tara, but I shouldn’t think about what’s good for her welfare, you know, when I’ve got an old grudge to----”

“Buffy, he....  he was upset by what happened. I believe he was terribly upset.”

“I don’t think that’s exactly true, Giles.” He wasn’t so upset, for instance, that he really hung around the bathroom after he found out....Nope, he had to run off and drive a wedge between Dawn and Spike. Because, hey, it’s way more important to take a shot at Spike than protect my sister’s feelings. Or mine.  Another memory surfaced, Xander lecturing her on the virtues of the man who’d cheated on her with vampires. Nice to know that it’s okay when Riley hurts my feelings but not when Spike does it.  “He wasn’t so upset that he missed this big opportunity to, you know, gloat about Spike.” Gloat about Spike? Her brain prodded, but she was already brushing it aside, moving on.

“I, ah, Buffy....”

“What do I do, Giles? Who do I get mad at?”

“Buffy, I’m trying to understand, exactly, but...it seems you’re angrier at Xander than at Spike.”

“No.” Buffy said softly. “No, I’m not. I’m just so mad I don’t know who it’s at, you know? And...” She sighed. “I’m mad at myself.”

“Why?”

She thought about it for a long minute, trying out sentences in her head. He loved me and I used him. I knew he loved me. He loved me and I treated him bad. He’s a vampire and I’m a human being, and I took everything he had to give and gave nothing back. “ I need to know...what happened when I was gone. When I was dead.”

“Ah.” Giles pinched the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger, squeezing his eyes shut. “Ah. Buffy, I have to say, I find this very confusing.”

“Well, like you’re the only one.”  She looped her arm through his. “I thought I was a good person, you know? I always did. I Slayed, I protected people from evil, and then...You know the worst thing? I was just so tired when they brought me back. It was like being in bed, you know, when you’re really tired, and you just kind of relax bit by bit, and you’re all sore and worn out. I was just getting to that stage, where I was, relaxing, like I was lying on a big pillow, and then I was here.”

“Oh, Buffy...”

“And Spike was so...gentle about it. We never would have gotten together, you know, except for me. He would have...just waited. Forever.” She sighed again. “He would have been happy enough being my friend, but....I kissed him. I, uh.....We had sex, and it was too many different things all at once, you know? It was like I’d never seen him before, and.....” She had to swallow around a lump in her throat. “Does any of that make sense?”

“Yes, all-too-unfortunately, it does.” He rubbed his eyes again. “It sounds to me as if you’re blaming yourself for this...incident.”

“No. No, I’m not.” She looked at him. “No, Giles, I’m really not. But I....I just.....He’s a vampire, Giles, why didn’t he just do that from the get go? Why didn’t he do that instead of getting a ...a...Bot? Why? He’s got the chip, yeah, but...he could have made minions. He could have found a way. Especially after the....” She stopped suddenly.

“Especially after what?”

“The chip.” She said quietly. “It doesn’t work on me. He could hit me again.”

“Ah.” This time the eye-rubbing was accompanied by something that sounded a quietly-exhaled breath. “And am I to assume that he did precisely that?”

“I hit him first. That first time.” All the time, interjected the little voice in her head. All the time, who are you kidding?  “I thought the chip still worked, Giles. I hit him and I knew he couldn’t hit me back.”

“And then....he tried to....?”

“No.” Buffy said quietly. “We were together...We were together....all year. After you left and before you came back.  And then....Riley came back...”

“Riley? I’d thought, well....”

“What?”

“Nothing.” He waved the question away. “Nothing.”  

“Yeah, I guess he got rid of the vampire addiction and discovered Martha Stewart.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“He got married.”

“Oh, dear.”

They sat in silence for a moment, then Giles said, “I was wrong to have left you all alone to deal with...all these things.”

“You can shut up now,” Buffy said. “You know? It just makes it better to hear you say it at intervals.”

“But when did this....incident happen?”

“Riley came into town and was looking for some guy who was selling demon eggs. And he walked in on Spike and me.”

“He walked in on....? Oh, dear.’

“Not like that. We were asleep.”

“Buffy....” Giles said wearily. “Well, no, never mind.”

“What?” Another nose-pinch with an eye rub, Buffy thought. I give it a five point six for execution.  “Well, it turned out that Spike was...the person Riley was looking for.”

“Oh.”

“Then I broke up with him.”

“Ah. And then....?”

“No. Giles....there’s something else, too.”

“Ah.”

Buffy stared into space, looking for courage. “There was something weird with the Trio. Before Riley came back. The trio of geeks that Warren was part of.”

“What was that?”

“They killed a girl, I think. But they made me think I did it.”

“And what does this have to do with Spike?”

“I was going to go to the police. And he stopped me.”

“I’m sorry, Buffy, but....I must ask, didn’t it occur to you to....wonder how you could have killed a girl? If this trio of, well----“ he shrugged apologeticaly,” if this trio, as you say, used some method to make you think that you’d killed this person, weren’t there any signs?”

“Well, yeah...” Buffy said reluctantly, thinking over that night. “But I...” I wanted to be punished. I felt so awful, it had to be guilt, it had to be bad, I deserved to be in jail. Never occurred to me that treating somebody who loves you like shit might make you feel like that.  “I just knew....I really, really wanted to go to the police. I wanted them to arrest me. I really thought I’d killed her.”  She gave him a diffident shrug “It would have kept me away from Spike.” In more ways than one.

“Did he have some kind of ...power over you? Is that what you’re saying?”

The power of his eyes and his body and his voice. The power of my depression. The fact that I had more power over him than he did over me...and I was bad to him and he wasn’t bad to me until....Even now, she couldn’t stop the memories, not of what had happened in the bathroom, but in his bed. Her desperation, his tenderness, all the tiny moments, all the little flashbacks....I thought those would go away.....I was hoping I’d forget all those things he did.....”No, Giles, not like that.”  All the nice things Spike did, she thought, turning to ashes in the confines of the most ludicrous place possible, turning everything they’d ever had inside out.....”We....we...It was only that he was a vampire. I couldn’t get over that. No soul. But when we were together....It wasn’t like...It--it---.” She shrugged, flushing, unable to continue. The deep breath she took then shook slightly and said more than she had.  

“Oh.” Giles muttered. Then it hit him. “Oh.”  

“Spike was trying to keep me from going to the police, and we fought. Well,” she took a deep breath. “We didn’t fight. I...Oh, God, Giles....I kept.....” She bowed her head, then, overwhelmed. “I...I...Couldn’t stop.”

“Couldn’t stop....?” Giles asked softly.

“I.” Buffy sniffled. “I...oh, boy. I started....hitting him. And he just didn’t do anything.”  

“I’m sorry, what?”

Buffy bowed her head, too embarrassed at the astonished tone of his voice to repeat herself.

“Buffy, forgive me for saying this, but I’m deeply confused.”

“No,” she nodded, “go ahead.”

“I still don’t understand how and when any of this happened. There’s Riley, and your relationship with Spike, and this incident....and I believe I need another drink.” He knocked back what was left of his drink, and got up.

Buffy got up and followed him, not surprised when they got to the kitchen and he poured a finger of Scotch for her. She wrinkled her nose at him. “Ugh.”

“That’s twelve years old, I’ll have you know.”

“Then shouldn’t you buy some that’s a little newer?”

For this, she got one raised eyebrow, so she regrouped. “If I can’t finish all that, you’re doing it.”

“Buffy, there’s little more than several molecules in that glass.”

She grimaced and drank it down, wrinkling her nose at the taste. Giles took a swallow, savored it for a moment, then set his glass down again. They both looked at their hands, folded on the counter of the kitchen island. “Now, then.”

“Now, then,” Buffy repeated.

“This is not going to make it easier, delaying it.”

“No.” She said. “I just...Giles....I just...I felt so....disappointed.”

“In who?”

“Spike,” She said quietly. “Spike. I keep telling myself, I shouldn’t be surprised, right? I’m telling myself that right now. I shouldn’t be disappointed in him, right? He was just a vampire, he didn’t know any better.”

“You wouldn’t be this upset if you truly believed that, Buffy.”

“Oh.” Buffy whispered. Even in that one syllable, her voice cracked. “Oh, God. I don’t even want to think about that.”

“The unfortunate thing I’ve discovered, Buffy, is that the things that you don’t want to talk about are the very things it’s most important to think about. Oh, dear.” He looked accusingly at the contents of his glass. “I just ended a sentence with a preposition.”

“C’mon.” Buffy said. She yanked open the back door and led him out on the porch, slapped by all the memories of Spike sitting silently by her side on that porch. “Okay.” She caught Giles’ eye, knowing he was seeing every flinch. “We used to sit here all the time, you know.”

“I’m sorry, then. Let’s go sit somewhere else, shall we?”

“No.” Buffy said. “Watch me take some of your advice. We’re sitting here.”

She sat down gingerly, automatically avoiding her usual spot. Sitting where Spike had sat at her side was no better; it made her think of him, and then her own reactions. Not good.

“So,” she said finally. “Should I start over?”

“Yes,” Giles said. She detected great reservations in that simple word. “I think it’s a good idea to get it all out and deal with it.”

“We kissed after that musical demon, you know.”

“That was probably the spell.”

“It didn’t feel like a spell.”

“Oh.”

“I remember how it felt to be engaged to Spike. It was partly, like, ew, you know----I sort of realized I shouldn’t be engaged to Spike. But it was....” She’d always kept that memory at bay, the brief betrothal that had left her with a curious glimpse into Spike’s emotions. She’d felt oddly comfortable with him in a well-what-an-interesting-kiss-that-was type of way. At one point he’d muttered to her what a pity Giles wasn’t deaf as well as blind, because if she wriggled around on his lap any longer, he really would give the old fart something to go blind over. She snapped out of that particular reverie because Giles was clearing his throat and glancing off away from her. “So I remember what it felt like to be under a spell. That wasn’t a spell.”

“And?”

“And then there was that spell of Willow’s, about erasing all our memories, and after that was over, it was like I started at the beginning all over again. It just hit me worse than it had at the beginning. I was...” She stopped, remembering. “I was so mad at Willow, you know, for doing that to me without asking, and I was so mad at Spike for asking about stuff that Willow didn’t ask about, you know? It should’ve been the other way around. But I just couldn’t...” Couldn’t very well slap some sense into your best friend, could you? She thought angrily. “I couldn’t tell Willow that I was so mad at her, Giles....and I think....” She stopped, again, something like horror dawning on her face. “Giles, do you think Willow knew?” She thought about it, then answered her own question. “I don’t know if she knew how scared I was of her...but I think.....she didn’t try to find out. She didn’t act like somebody who didn’t want people to be scared of her.  I mean, she did that to Tara twice without asking, and then me, and I don’t think she thought Tara would ever leave her.  She thought she could get away with it, and...and....she was, like, mad, that we wouldn’t let her, I think.....And....” She’s always the one that gets pissed off at me, Buffy thought. When I came back after that summer, and wanted to leave just about right away, Willow was pissed off at me, but at least then I could yell at her. She wasn’t really a witch then, though. She cleared her throat. “You know, when I ran away that time, Willow was so mad at me for going, and then I wanted to leave because nobody understood how bad it was, and they just...they just didn’t care. At least that’s what I thought. And....and Willow hasn’t gotten that angry at me since.” It’s hard to get that angry at somebody who’s afraid of losing you, she added mentally.

“Buffy,” Giles said softly. “We did care.” They both stared off into the shadows, resolutely ignoring each other’s suddenly-trembling chins. “But...” How do you explain? How does it happen that you open your mouth to say, ‘I was so worried,’ and instead find yourself muttering, ‘You should have...’? After several moments of staring, he managed to find his firm voice again. Have you been angry at her? Have you gotten angry at her? Recently?”

“Yes,” she muttered.

“Did you tell her?”

“What would I tell her? ‘You need to get slapped? You’re overdue for a spanking?’  She was mad at me, Giles. All through that....fight. All through that fight, she kept making fun of me, for losing Mom, and you, and....I was afraid of...that.”

“Of getting her more angry?”

“No.” She struggled for words, which, as always, seemed to dam up in her throat. How to put it into words, the way it felt to come back from the dead, the way the grave kept trying to pull you back, and the only thing that could keep you from falling was the grasp of your friends? They were supposed to hold you back from the edge, except once she was back, they kept their distance, when what she’d needed was exactly the opposite. The only person who dared to get close enough was Spike. “Yes,” she muttered, then changed her mind again. “No.”  The Slayer, able to slay many vampires with your basic pointy stick, afraid of pissing off her best friend. “How could I get pissed off at her? How could I tell her? She sure didn’t ask before she tried spells out on us, and I didn’t want her to even think about doing that when she was pissed. I heard you,” she added quietly. “That night in the kitchen. I was on the porch. It was like...I’d been her experiment.”

“Oh, God, Buffy,” he whispered. “I’d no idea you overheard that.”

“It was kind of hard to miss it. She threatened you. I don’t know what happened to her. That just wasn’t...Willow.”

“I don’t know what happened to her, either.” Giles said quietly. He sipped at his drink thoughtfully, then stared at the dregs in the bottom of his glass. “Have you talked to her?”

“No,” Buffy said firmly.

“Not at all?”

“No.”

“And why?”

I couldn’t tell Spike how I felt about him, how on earth could I tell my best friend how mad I was at her? Is there such a thing as being too close? “I’m afraid of excuses, Giles. I know what she’ll say. She’ll talk about losing Tara, about being the quiet one, stuff like that. I don’t know if I can stand it. And it wouldn’t be really in her interest, either, for me to go all gushy and, oh, you’re forgiven!”

“What makes you think that that would happen?”

“Because I want her back, Giles. I want to have a best friend again. I mean, this whole year, I just felt so...isolated. I know I wouldn’t be able to not forgive her...and I think that would be bad.”

He looked at her curiously. “Why?”

“She keeps doing the same stuff. So does Xander. And now they’re together.”

“What do you mean?”

Buffy pressed her hands to her cheeks, face flushing with the pressure of things long unsaid. “You know, spells and stuff. That I-meant-well stuff, I-didn’t-know-that-was-going-to-happen stuff. Xander and the dancing demon, the hyena, Willow with all the magic? The I-got-dumped-so-I’ll-do-a-spell?  I never did a spell,” she muttered.

“Well, yes,” Giles said quietly. “But you’re the Slayer. You’ve never really needed to, I suspect.”

“Needed to?” Buffy exclaimed. “You mean, did I ever feel the need to do things to my friends so that things would be the way I wanted them? No, never wanted to. I just wanted them to talk to me, for God’s sake. That’s all.”

“Well, that’s precisely the thing that’s difficult to do.”

“You have a—“ Her voice cracked just a bit, but she squared her chin and kept going. “You have a hard time talking to me?”

“No, Buffy, not that.” He looked at her. “But this does put a bit of perspective to it. Had you ever considered that...well, they might be somewhat envious of your status as the Slayer?”

“What? No,” Buffy scoffed. “No, I don’t think that has anything to do with it. Get envious of having no life, killing things all the time, the injuries, the...dying? I just...I don’t think it was that. It was just...being impatient, I think. Xander, and the hyena thing? That wasn’t his fault, I know, but....he used it to his advantage, he used it as an excuse, because he had something he could blame his behavior on. He and Willow, they keep....trying spells, and they just don’t think about what’s going to happen to other people. I don’t think Xander’s ever been under a spell, and Willow just...There was that spell of Xander’s when Cordelia dumped him, but Willow keeps putting other people under spells even though she knows what it’s like! And then, it’s all ‘oops, didn’t know that was going to happen.’ ” Giles glanced at her startled, but even Buffy herself was surprised. “I have no idea where that came from, Giles. I really don’t.”

“You do tend to keep things inside, Buffy.”

“I didn’t used to.”

“Well, I’m glad you seem to be making some progress.”

“Is that what this is, progress?”

“Of a sort,” Giles said. He sighed and studied his hands. “You won’t be able to make much further progress unless you actually speak to Willow and Xander, though.”

“And Spike?” Buffy asked. “Does that mean I have to talk to Spike, too?”

“I’d thought....you’d want to, actually. From the way you’ve been talking...?”

“I don’t think I want to talk to anybody but you.” Buffy said firmly. “Right now, that’s all.” She, too, looked down at her hands. “Not yet, anyway. Not right now. I don’t know what else I want, but I do know, I don’t want that.”



Part Eight: Secrets and Lies

“Well, how are we doing today?”

What a stupid question.  “We?” Are you asking me or one of my sixteen personalities? Or do both of us have sixteen personalities? Why did people ask that instead of what they really wanted to ask?

“Will, you have to answer me some day. I’m not going away.”

And I’m not talking. Not till you’re honest.

“You have to talk.”

On the one hand, she resented it----the therapy, the benevolence, all the forgiveness they offered, because it came with a catch: if she’d just toe the line and whimper. I liked it better when they hated me. At least that was a strong emotion. They’re trying to turn me back into good old boring Willow. Good old Willow. Old Willow. Nobody ever had strong feelings about good old me before.  Not Xander, not Oz, not Buffy. Why pretend now? Never going to be boring again, dammit. Not gonna happen.

On the other hand, there was the guilt. Great way to honor Tara, there, champ; murder people, and try to kill two other people, and my friends besides.

Buffy tried it.

Buffy was infected by demon poison.

That explains the whole fucking Spike thing, too. Oh, wait....No it doesn’t.

It’s not fair.

Maybe not. But maybe it’s...appropriate.

It’s just not fair.

Her mind gave up when she tried to come up with something that was fair. I was so good for so long, I meant well, doesn’t that count? Can’t you let me go? Can’t you understand? It’s not fair. Oz left me and Xander never loved me back....except for that time, which we totally did not mean to hurt people. I mean, when Oz did that to me, I understood then.

I never apologized, though.

Yes, I did.

Not really.

I apologized so I’d make myself feel better.

No, I meant it. I really meant it.

Like you brought Buffy back for her own good. Yeah, right, like that was what you wanted. You liked being the Slayer for a while, then it got to be too much, too often, too ugly---all that slaying, all that violence. Not the kind of power you wanted. Leadership was power. Leadership-----oh, that was fun. That was so fun.

Making decisions. Giving orders. Being Buffy for a while, not just the sidekick.

I did not just think that.

Did too.

Xander sighed and sat down in his chair next to the door for their daily avoiding eye contact contest. “You know, I can see what you’re thinking.”

Bullshit. If you could see what I was thinking...

What am I thinking?

Gee, what would have happened if Buffy hadn’t come back?

Better not think about it. Better not remember.

Oh, that summer. Even though she had to kill vampires and demons every night, and it wasn’t as easy as Buffy had made it seem, she had relished the power for a while. Even though Giles’ glances in her direction began to make her feel rather uncomfortable, she could avoid that stare easily enough. It just got so complicated, so onerous. After all, power was one thing...but Spike kept flinching every time the Buffybot so much as opened her mouth, and she’d found Dawn watching TV with the bot more than once, cuddled up against the thing with her head on its shoulder.  Then there was the stuff she hadn’t expected about Slaying, even though she’d been the Slayer’s friend for ages. Had Buffy never talked about it, or had she managed to ignore it? There were the bruises, the sprains, the cuts that always made the fight so much more difficult when the vampires smelled the blood....No, it wasn’t the way she thought it was at all, and she began to look back at Buffy’s memory a little uncomfortably. Once she’d been rather jealous, and hadn’t she always admitted it?

No, actually, I didn’t.

No, power was fun, but the stuff that came with it....That wasn’t fun. It stopped being fun in some way and that was when she decided to bring Buffy back. It became even less fun when Buffy was actually back, and whose company did she seek out but Spike’s? She’d probably told him everything, and what happened? He tried to rape her and took off...

Just like Xander. He took off, too, just not literally. That’s how you avoid it. You take off.

I should have just killed Warren and Rack and left. That would have worked. Not having to look at them, and see that they didn’t see the Willow she thought she was, the Willow she wanted to be.

She’d expected more from Buffy. Sure, she slayed, she tried to act normal, but then they found out where she’d actually been, and that was where Willow had begun feeling her own anger. Buffy couldn’t tell her best friend where she’d been, what she was doing? And finding out about the affair with Spike...when had they stopped talking?

About the same time I started relying on magic instead of my friends.

Not true. Definitely not true.  

I only used magic because I couldn’t get what I wanted from them.

And what would that be?

I don’t know.

I don’t want to know.

“Will...” Xander said heavily, and she heard it then, heard the judgment in his voice. If she ever broke her silence, it would be because she’d finally had it from him, finally had it with his judgmental take on her actions, like he was a choirboy himself. Dating a demon? Summoning another one? Getting people killed? The way he treated Anya?

The way I treated Tara?

No, that was different.

Why?

Because it was different. It really was. I never said the sort of stuff he said...

A mental image of the Bronze, looking for Dawn, and Tara calling her on her magic usage, and her own angry response...Oh, God, forgot about that...

Not the same as Xander. He said things....and I did things. No, that’s not true. Because I was trying to make things okay. Xander just wanted to get what he wanted.

They stared at one another,  Xander resigned, Willow defiant. I’m not going to break. I’m never going to not be angry. Getting angry is good. Getting angry keeps me from thinking about Tara and how bad I was to her. Anger means I will stay angry at what happened to Tara, and not think about how easy it was to let something turn me into a killer, too. Anger means there is no place here for grief over Tara. No place to think about how lonely I am. No way to think about how I will never ever be able to make it up to Tara. Won’t have to try to make it up to Buffy and Xander. Won’t have to deal with it.   Because they might not want to make it up to me. They might not want me back. Nobody might want me. I don’t want me, either.



Heard anything?”

Buffy turned around and looked at Giles. “Huh?” She gestured at the back yard. “Just me and the crickets.”

“No.” He leaned more comfortably against the door jamb. “From anyone.” It wasn’t a question.

“I get the feeling there are some people you’re not really interested in getting updates from.” Ah, she thought, I said that and even I didn’t even see it coming. Giles removed his glasses and rubbed his eyes. “With or without the Scotch.” This earned her a wry look, because of course he had a tumbler of Scotch in his hand.

“I do try to cling to some sense of normality,” he sighed. “But if there is some particular vampire you wish to discuss, I’ll listen.”

“And grit your teeth.”

“Allow me one prejudice, would you please? I can’t say I’ve ever been comfortable with the notion of you..and....vampires.”

“It’s not like I tried to.”

“No, no, I don’t suppose so.” He gave her another wry look and sat down next to her with a creak. She wasn’t sure if it was the porch boards or his bones; either way, her glance was equal parts fondness and worry. “However, you didn’t really try not to.”

“Well,” Buffy cocked her head at him, impressed. “That was rather bitchy.”

“Yes, it was,” Giles said with a sense of accomplisment. “I’m rather pleased. I’ve been taking notes.”

“Where? Oh, like I’m that bitchy? Nu-uh.”

“Well, I would like to point out that I was not the one who came up with that label.”

“If the shoe fits...” Buffy cocked her head at him.

“That’s a matter of debate.” Giles cocked an eyebrow right back.

“Besides, who was I supposed to date? Look what happened when I dated humans. Riley? Parker? Owen.” She sighed finally. “Never worked.”

“I thought you were fond of Riley.”

“But he couldn’t cope with both him and me.” She considered it. “All the Army stuff? I could handle that, and he might have been able to if it had just been that. But then there the Slayer stuff, too. I don’t think he could handle both things. I could because I’m the Slayer. But he didn’t like that, watching me cope. And I don’t think somebody who loves me should need me to...not cope.”

“He’s just one man, Buffy.”

“Parker?” She pointed out archly.

“I hardly think one caddish twit should spoil one for men in general.” He took off his glasses and wiped them. “I’m sorry to say, but unfortunately, there are men like Parker, although why they’re not considered to be demons, I’ve no idea.”

  “Just another Counsel of Watchers slip up, no doubt.”

“At least vampires and demons just try to kill you.” Giles sighed.

“Yeah,” Buffy retorted. “People just try to break your heart.”

He glanced at her suddenly, startled. “Buffy...”

She shifted uncomfortably on the step. “Yeah, I know, I know. But...At least Angel loved me. At least Spike did.”

“Did?” Giles asked quietly. “Past tense?”

“I haven’t talked to Angel all summer. It’s not like we’re friends or anything, you know.” She looked down at her hands. “I’d like that. I’d really like that, even if I don’t know how to do it. It’d be nice to get together and talk, and reminisce about...Well, okay, about monsters and the apocalypse---“

“Which one?”

“Shush. I’m having fun.” She sniffed thoughtfully. “You know, that’s the problem, Giles. I need people I can talk to about the stuff I know---vampires, werewolves, all that stuff. Otherwise, I have to hide. I could always do that with you and the guys.” She paused again. “But, you know, it’s like the more normal people get, the less they talk…about the stuff….they….need to talk about.” She sighed. “And it’s kind of hard to talk to people who always make you do the talking.” Buffy muttered.

“I beg your pardon?”

“I think they should try and talk to me,” she grumbled. “I’m so tired, Giles.”

“They? You mean....Oh. Do you really think they don’t...?”

“Well, no,” she said firmly. “It’s not just me having probems with this, is it? Xander didn’t really say he and Anya were having problems, did he? Boom, he walked out on her. And I didn’t say anything about me and Spike, but....Willow and the magic....” She shrugged. “So, would any of this have happened if I had talked? What about if the others had talked?”

“Well,” Giles considered. “Where would you start?”

She looked down firmly, then straight into his eyes. “With you.”

He took another gulp of Scotch, then a deep breath. “Fire away.”

“You mean..?”

“Yes,” he nodded firmly.

She was the one who shrugged. “Really? You won’t be mad?”

“Maybe at myself.”

“Okay.” She stared out at the darkness, collecting her thoughts. “Giles, don’t go away,” she said softly. “Don’t leave me. Something is wrong with me. I don’t want to live, but I can’t stand to die again. My friends.... they don’t want to hear about it. I feel like I’m frozen and I’ll never get warm again.” And Spike makes me feel like I’m melting away, she thought. “I can’t do this.”

“All right, then, keep going.”

“Okay..Uh.” And she drew a blank. “Xander.” She thought about it. “You guys brought me back and I just want to sleep till I’m rested. Go slay or something. How come you’re eating so much? I do that when I’m anxious. Are you anxious? What about? Is it Anya? And stop bitching at Spike. He fought demons with you the whole summer, and I was dead, so it wasn’t like he was trying to impress you.”

“Willow.” Giles prompted.

“Don’t ever do a spell on somebody unless you ask them first, okay?” She grimaced. “It’s like....hiring somebody to do your housework when you’re not especially busy. It’s easy-er, you know? It’s getting somebody to do something you don’t feel like doing.” She glanced down. “You know, that didn’t really do anything for me.”

“What about Spike?”

Buffy sighed. “I don’t think I can say that in front of you.” Giles winced at that.

“Well,then, think about it.” She glanced out of the corner of her eye at him, and he nudged her. “I’m serious.”

“Okay.” She closed her eyes and tried to get her thoughts to do something organized. Her mind promptly brought her back to that first night, that first moment. One day, she thought, I’ll get tired of remembering that, but today is obviously not that day.  The wall hard against her back, and a sudden flash of clarity, as his arms tightened around her. This is really happening, I’m really doing this, we’re really doing this. His face in her hands, her legs tightening around his waist, the clothes between them.....And then, later, tearing them off.....That was the moment, right there, she thought. That was when I should have said something. Of course, that was precisely the moment, he shouldn’t have said...

Spike, pulling her into his lap, her pulse already hammering with anticipation...The way he kissed her, the way it felt...Was that what she’d been missing? Kissing him was so different from kissing anyone else that she couldn’t figure out if the difference was just him or...them.  The two of them, together. The way he kissed was almost some unspoken language, some secret communication that said things she could never articulate, any more than she could describe why having sex with Spike was closer to making love than any of the nice sex she’d ever had with anyone else. Heart and soul, she thought, but he doesn’t have a soul, so what could you call it?

Kissing him on a floor littered with debris and clothes, the only reality was that he kissed her as if he’d never kissed a girl before, as if she were the only girl in the world. It was the same way he’d touched her, too, his hands gentle and tender, almost as if he was afraid she’d shatter. If she’d let him, she was fairly sure, it would have stayed that way.

Oh, yes, there it was, the wrong fork in that road.

Spike, pulling her onto his lap, kissing her like some sweet boy, the two of them, rolling onto the floor...”I knew it, I knew the only thing better than...”

What could she have said?  The Buffy then was too confused to put it all together in some way that made sense of the contrasts, the way his kisses made her feel like a virgin all over again, with no evil morning-after, the way his body made her scream at the same time. Of course, she thought, I was the one who turned evil the morning after. She winced at the thought. Spike had turned stupid, but that was hardly a change of pace for any guy who’d just had not just unexpected sex, but lots of it.

She thought about it, turning around potential retorts in her mind. It wasn’t if if she’d ever get the chance to actually say any of them:  The only thing better than killing a Slayer was f---Wish I could say the same about vampires there, Casanova. If there was such a thing as blurting out a thought, that was what that was. She tried it out in her mind. She’d have shoved him aside, he’d had gotten angry---but probably not hurt----and then they’d have probably...Maybe he’d have made her laugh. Instead of stomping out, maybe, they’d have...

She shivered. “This isn’t going to change anything, Giles. I can’t go back and change things.”

“No,” Giles said reasonably. “But you can prepare yourself for things to come.”

“Which will be...?”

“What are you going to do with Willow?”

“What is she going to do with me?” She countered.

“Buffy, it’s not a treaty negotiation.”

“Well, I just want to know.”

“And that’s precisely what you can’t do with people. You don’t know. You can’t know. You can only treat them decently, and fairly, and  then...You can only hope.”

“There’s no hope with some people.”

“No, there isn’t. But you have to try.”

She peered at him. “Are you drunk?”

“Buffy, really, that sort of thing must stop.” He got up with perfect--and rather careful---steadiness and went into the kitchen, where he poured her several molecules of Scotch and watched her patiently till she downed it.

“Are you sure you’re not a drunk?”

Buffy.” He sloshed the liquid around in his glass thoughtfully, however. “It does take the edge off, I admit. I used to have a great deal more trouble drinking. I’d lie in bed and worry.”

“About what?”

“You, of course.” Giles said quietly. “I was back home in England, and I may as well have been in some ghastly place like....Cleveland.” He shuddered as if a goose had walked over his grave, Buffy thought. “Now, though....I drink after my day, and you and I talk, and then I sleep better. Is that bad?”

“No, I guess not.” Buffy said after a startled pause. “I guess it’s just what you find to help you deal with things....”

“Well, for me it’s a bit of a drink before bed.”

And for me it was Spike....



Part Nine: The Right Things

Some things never changed: Giles’ telephone manners, for example. When she heard, “Oh, dear,” she identified the problem as being not quite demon-related, but a matter of some concern nonetheless. When he added an, “Oh, Good Lord,” for emphasis, she realized that it was very likely serious but probably not human-related. An “I see” indicated a conundrum, and the long pause after he hung up the phone meant that he knew perfectly well how to solve it, he just really, really didn’t want to.

She plopped down on the couch and looked at him, standing at the phone table that made absolutely no sense. One of Mom’s pieces that had survived and prospered, despite its uselessness, while the coffee table that had served long and hard during many Stupid Movie Nights had died during the Demon Birthday onslaught. There’s no justice in the world, she thought. At least when it comes to furniture. She glared accusingly at the irritating end table she was always bumping into. Next demon broke into the house, she was going to steer it straight at that thing. Her shins were permanently deformed, thanks to it.

“So, let me guess,” she said.

“Buffy….”

“It’s human.”

“Buffy….”

“It’s long-distance.”

“Buffy…How did you know that?”

“And it doesn’t involve demons and stuff like that.”  She shrugged off his question. “My mom used to have some of the same body language when Snyder used to call her.”

“No,” he said heavily, sitting down next to her. He took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. At moments like this, she saw his age clearly, and thought that the short life of a Slayer had an advantage, albeit selfish: I’ll never have to see him die.  Giles leaned back against the couch, sighing deeply. “That was Xander.”

“Was it?” Xander had called and not asked for her? Not good.

“Yes.” He waited and she looked at the carpet, thinking, in an alternate universe, I bet the Slayers complain about demons that inadvertently fix furniture and clean carpet with their spit.

“How’s Willow?”

“She’s not making much progress.”

“What do you mean, by not much?”

“She’s not talking.”

“She’s…What do you mean, she’s not talking? I thought she was, you know, making progress.”  Her earlier worries about Xander and Willow together, reinforcing their tendencies, hit her again, and she looked at him with doubtful eyes. “Is she using sign language or something?”

“Evidently not. Progress being measured by not flaying people, yes.” He said reluctantly. “I didn’t lie to you. Xander has been somewhat oblique.”

“Not important. Giles—this is scary. She has to talk. She has to. How is she going to…? To do whatever it is you do when you’re a---a---an angry witch,” she finished lamely. “That’s not progress. That’s…reverse progress.” She chewed on her lip. “That’s, like, nothing. She’s still in one place.” She crossed her sense, sensing impending badness of the worst sort. Can’t stake it. Can’t behead it. Can’t fight it because it doesn’t fight back. “How long has she been like this?”

Giles rubbed his forehead, glasses dangling from one hand. “Yes, well, more or less since she arrived.”

“And what about Xander? If he can’t make her talk, Giles….Giles?” Buffy stared up at him with wide eyes. “So now what?”

“Why do you think Xander’s the only person who can make her talk?”

“Because he is. And he can. And, uh, you….can’t.”

“Well, evidently, he can’t either,” Giles said acidly, “because as yet he hasn’t done so. And quite frankly, I’m at a loss.”

“You can’t be at a loss,” Buffy said firmly. “I won’t allow it. You must be at a…gain or something. How come that doesn’t make any sense at all? Shouldn’t clichés come in pairs?”

“Lots of things should be, Buffy, but aren’t.” Giles sat down wearily next to her, rubbing his temples with his index fingers. As he bowed his head next to her, she saw suddenly how the grey in his hair had increased, and stamped back on the worry.  He’s a Watcher, she thought. He’ll think of something.

Except what if the something is him leaving again?

“Giles…You’re not going to go there, are you?”

“No,” Giles said firmly. “Until Xander gets her to open up, I believe that the sight of me will only make her shut down.” He sighed and looked down at his hands again, hesitating. His discomfort was practically a physical presence. Someone obviously had to go and do something about Willow’s non-progress. Someone who was mature and capable and cool. Buffy ran over the short list of candidates in her head. Giles. Me.  Dawn? Anya? Oh, yes, that would be good.  She was still running over her list, wondering what she’d missed, finally turned to her. “I’d rather like you to try.”




What?!”

Giles reflected wearily that in all the years he’d known her, he’d never heard that particular tone to Buffy’s voice. He suspected dogs in the neighborhood were perking up their ears all of a sudden. “Why me? I’ve never been….I’ll have to…I can’t!”

I can’t leave here, obviously.”

“Why can’t you? It’s not like it’s the first time.” Buffy winced at the sudden, pained look on his face.

“Well, why can’t you go, Buffy? I don’t understand why you’re so dead set against it.”

Because Spike might come back and you might stake him, Buffy thought. It was impossible to say that and impossible to forget it. ”Well, why shouldn’t you? It’s your country.”

“But she’s your best friend, Buffy.” He rubbed his eyes again. “And right now I’m just the person who disagrees with her about her magic.”

“Disagrees?”

“All this addiction talk,” he said dismissively, waving a hand. “It’s not an addiction.”

“We—ell…” Buffy said, startled. “What is it, then?”

“It’s an excuse,” Giles said loftily. “Remember your trepidation about drinking?”

“Uh?” Buffy said brightly. “Y-es?”

“I hate to have to say this, Buffy, but really, this is so American.”

“Oh, really? And why?”

“Well, just because it’s entertaining or self-indulgent doesn’t mean it’s bad,” Giles said dryly. “And I thought we had the market cornered on stiff upper lips.”

“What are you talking about? You and I?”

“About American repression. Look at obesity, for example. One simply does not see obese people elsewhere in the world, unless it’s a culture that specifically prizes size as a sign of affluence. Actually,” he said, “that might not be very far off with Americans.” Buffy instantly recognized the lecture mode. “I wonder if there’s any commentary about indigenous culture in the Chron---“ He caught Buffy’s eye, and cleared his throat, shifting uncomfortably on the couch.

“Giles,” Buffy said sarcastically, “Can you not make us sound like we walk around in bearskins or something?”

“Yes, well, I’ll see about that later,” he sighed. “Why are you so opposed to this idea?”

“Because I’m afraid of being overwhelmed by weird silverware and---“

“Buffy,” Giles interjected.

“I’ve never been anywhere,” Buffy said. “And it’s Willow. I have enough trouble with this—this---talking, when there’s nothing at stake, but now everything is. I’ll say the wrong thing, or I won’t be able to say anything at all. And she’ll get pissed off at me, and this time I won’t be able to stop her.”

“You said you wanted your friend back,” Giles reminded her softly.

“But I don’t know how to do that!”

“You won’t know how to do it till you try,” Giles said in that same soft voice. “I can only do so much, Buffy. There are things I can’t do. I can’t get your friends back for you. All I can do is referee.” With that, he got up wearily and went to the kitchen. She listened to the clinking of the bottles there, and knew he was pouring himself some more scotch. She’d never seen him buy a bottle; had he come with a huge supply, or did the Scotch Fairy replenish it every night?

The fact was, she was scared. Once she and Willow had been best friends, but she didn’t know if that was possible now. It seemed like it had been such a long time since they had been friends. All last year, they seemed more like people who’d divorced on really, really good terms. Of course, she thought, Spike and I were enemies once. At that thought, her tentative optimism collapsed. Who knows what we are now? Who knows where he is? How can I know anything till I find that out?

Giles returned and wearily sank down into the couch next to her. He sniffed at the contents of his glass, winced, then handed it to her. With a wry glance, she imitated his movements, then took a sip. “You just don’t think there’s any other way?”

“Buffy—it’s not magic that’s bothering her,” Giles said. “I don’t believe for one minute that her behavior now has to do with magic.”

“What do you think it is, then?”

“It’s whatever emotions one feels after acting so out of character. Grief, anger---She doesn’t want to talk about anything, because to do so would mean acknowledging what she’d done.”

Buffy stared at him with huge eyes. “You—think so?”

Giles avoided her eyes. “I hope so. If I still know Willow at all, that’s what she’d be feeling.”

“Giles---“ Buffy said thoughtfully.

“What?”

“It was just one thing, one time,” she said thoughtfully. “Does it change somebody that much? One awful---“ she looked at him cautiously. “One evil, terrible thing.  Can it totally change someone?”

Giles looked at her a long time. “It depends on the person,” he said finally. His lips parted as he thought of saying something else, but he gulped down the Scotch instead. “With Willow, it’s entirely possible she could have gotten into trouble with something else. Using magic to solve a non-magical problem is like…” He sighed. “And I’m afraid I simply wouldn’t be that welcome.”

“But the things she said to me…”

“At least they’re out of her system,” Giles said quietly. “But I suspect that’s not true for your system.”




“So…are you scared?”

Buffy surveyed her suitcase and grimaced. “No,” she said brightly. When lacking conviction, substitute enthusiasm.  No stakes, no axes, no weapons, not even in the carry-on. What was there to be afraid of? Airsickness, weird food and the only people she knew were the friends she had serious, squirm-worthy issues with. “It’s just the possibility of Willow---“ She glanced up at Dawn suddenly. “---not being happy,” she finished lamely.

“Nice try,” Dawn said. She nudged the suitcase aside and flopped down on her bed. “Cause when you’re not happy, you have sex with vampires.”

“Hey!”

“Well, it’s true. But when Willow’s not happy, she tries to destroy the world.”

Buffy slumped. Why can’t all dilemmas be solved by staking something? Why?

Dawn fidgeted at the way Buffy’s face suddenly became drawn and tense. Crap, did it again. But why does she have to get all wiggy all the time? Buffy Tv: All wig, all the time. Change the subject. Crap. What was the subject? Something funny!

“When Giles talked about the British invasion, I didn’t think he meant you.

Buffy sighed and snapped the suitcase shut, then put it on the floor, then flopped on the bed from the other side, putting her head at Dawn’s waist and vice versa. “Going to miss me?”

“Maybe. As long as it takes me to find your diary.”

“Well, I’m comforted now. Because I don’t keep a diary.”

“Which is probably good. Because I saw your other one.”

“What….” An awful suspicion formed in her brain. “You didn’t---“

“Oh, yeah,” Dawn said gleefully. “Even I was not stupid enough to write sixteen-year-old poetry. I’ve seen Janice’s. It’s all about cute guys, and how  no one knows she’s actually, like, this fashion model waiting to blossom. She’s always scribbling something in her notebook, and then looking around to make sure she has someone to hide it from, you know? She thinks she’s…”

Buffy waited thoughtfully, while Dawn tried to come up with the name of a female poet. “Well….Huh,” Dawn said. “Maybe that’s why her poetry sucks---who is there to imitate?”

“Sylvia Plath?”

“Ugh,” Dawn made a face. “Okay, so there are female poets, but they’re so depressing. Why are they all depressing?”

“Male poets,” Buffy said. “Isn’t that enough to do it?”

“Plus, like wasn’t that---What?” Dawn said suddenly as Buffy suddenly realized something.

“Are you guys reading Sylvia Plath?”

“No, are you kidding? We’re still reading Harry Potter or something.”

“So how do you know Sylvia Plath?”

“Oh, Janice,” Dawn shrugged. “She wants to be a tortured artist now. Except she left out the tortured part. Sometimes, I wish somebody would----“ At Buffy’s skeptical look, she rolled her eyes. “Besides,” she added, “look at you.”

Buffy shook her head, amused and impressed at the same time, reaching out to touch Dawn’s face fondly. “Well, after that whole I-dated-a-vampire thing, I was kind of so-not-popular. So I had to do something with my time. It’s so much easier to read poetry than write it, you know.”

“I guess.”

“Did you really read my diary?”

“No,” Dawn admitted finally. “I didn’t really know you kept one. But now that I do, finding it is going to be my mission in life.”

“You ....Key-thingie!”

“Nope, not anymore. I am the sister formly known as Key.”

“Giles hasn’t been making you watch Monty Python again, has he?”

“No, but we do have this marathon planned for while you’re away. He says it’s painful, watching you grimace instead of laugh.”

“I just don’t like them.” Buffy muttered. “I’m sorry, but I just don’t.”

“Well, see, I’m obligated to like stuff that you don’t. Then we can fight about it, and I can write a book about it later and be on Oprah.”

“Oh, God, I am so going to take TV away when I get home.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah, but you’ll have to take it away from Giles. He really likes some of those soap operas.”

“I do not,” Giles said irritably from the doorway. “What has she been saying about me?”

“It’s not so much that,” Buffy said dryly. “It’s what is it going to take to keep her from saying it.” They looked up at him, and both gave him identical, gleeful grins. Buffy’s, especially, clutched at his heart. It had been so long since she’d smiled like that, and he wondered how long it would last. “But her allowance isn’t that big, so there’s probably room for negotiation.”

“I really don’t know who’s going to have it worse,” he muttered as Buffy and Dawn both sat up. “You for being away from each other, or me for having to deal with—“ Here he eyed them darkly---“ both of you.”

“Well, hey---“ Buffy lifted her suitcase and shoved it at him. “There’s always---“

“No, thank you,” he said precisely. “And we must get you to the airport. Anya’s waiting in the car, and I suspect she’s charging by the minute.”

“She’ll be coming over to help with Dawn?”

“I don’t need to be helped with!” Dawn said sharply. ”Stop making it seem like I need Depends or something!”




Waiting at the airport only increased Buffy’s nervousness. How on earth could leaving someone ever be an option when it was this painful? Dawn’s good mood vanished, and she became nervous and tense. Anya discussed rent rates with the various shopkeepers on the concourse and kept rolling her eyes at whatever they were telling her. Giles kept bowing his head and sighing. And she herself couldn’t stop pacing. “Buffy,” Dawn hissed. “Stop being so nervous.”

That stopped her in her tracks. “You mean stop looking nervous? But I am nervous.”

“It’s okay,” Dawn assured her. “Planes hardly ever crash anymore.”

“Oh, my God,” Buffy moaned. “I am so grounding you when I get back.”

“Oh, yeah,” Dawn looked distinctly unimpressed. “You’ll have forgotten all about it by then. You have airsickness written all over you.”

“Dawn, you’re making her nervous,” Anya said firmly.

“Oh, I know that.”

“So stop doing it.”

“You’re not really scared, are you?” Dawn looped her arm through Buffy’s. “You’re the Slayer. You’re never scared of anything.”

Despite the butterflies flipping around in her stomach, Buffy still managed a fond look at her. God, she could be so obnoxious one minute, and then adorable the next. And if I ever tell her that, I will never live it down. Good reason to avoid Giles’ Scotch.  

“Buffy---“ Giles said. “That’s your flight, I’m afraid.”

Oh, thank God, she thought. At least the goodbyes are over. Suddenly, she didn’t seem to feel quite so nauseous. She received a warm embrace from Giles, a wriggling puppy good-bye from Dawn, and a stiff, puzzled hug from Anya, who then looked bewildered and shook her hand. “Good luck,” Anya said. “If your face is any clue, you’re going to need it.”

The last thing Buffy heard before she headed off down the jetway was the sound of two different voices, one tenor and one soprano, both saying the same thing: “Anya!”




“Buffy’s never flown anywhere before?” Anya asked.

“No, I’m afraid not.”

“Well, that explains the green.” Anya said diffidently. She stared at the pizza.

“Anya, what is it?”

She glanced around before she answered, but Dawn was safely ensconced on the living room sofa, giggling at something she probably shouldn’t be watching without adult supervision. “I just want it to be like it was before.”

“You still…miss Xander?” Giles said cautiously.

“No,” Anya said firmly. “I don’t. Not at all.”

“No?”

“Well…”

“Anya, be honest. At least with yourself.”

“I miss the idea of Xander,” she sighed. “I was a vengeance demon, do you know what that means?”

“I suspect I don’t want to know.”

“No, it doesn’t mean that, stu—uh,” she managed to stop herself, then beamed at him as he eyed her skeptically. “Uh, no, it just means that I just got the idea that there really aren’t any good relationships, you know? And then there was Xander. He wasn’t bad, but…I got used to him. And he wasn’t that nice to me at all.”

“And then there were the relationships around you, I suppose.”

“Well, I wondered about Buffy and Spike,” she said casually.

“Why?”

“Because she spent all that time with him after she came back. They were always sitting together on the back porch, talking all the time, and then it just stopped. They kind of avoided each other then. Of course, eventually we figured out what was going on.  But look at it this way. They were talking, and they weren’t in a relationship, and then they weren’t talking, and they were in a relationship.”

“Well, I should hardly think a vampire and a vampire slayer should serve as one’s example of a relationship.”

“Yes, well, I’ll go out and get that copy of “Ex-Vengeance Demon’s Guide to Relationship Success!”

“Anya…”

“Well, if there aren’t any good ones around, how are you supposed to learn how to do it right? Giles, I became a vengeance demon because I had a crappy relationship.”

“Well,” he said uncomfortably.

“You’re going to do that English noise, aren’t you?”

“I beg your pardon?”

“That English noise. You know, where you go, ‘mm-him’ and try to look like you’re thinking, when you’re actually wondering where either the weapons or the exits are.” Giles, who was in fact looking over his shoulder at that moment, froze and slowly turned around. He squared his shoulders, then adjusted his tie. While Anya smirked at him, he took sip of his tea.

“You know, if you eat your pizza, it’s a much better cover up than drinking that stuff. Isn’t it cold?”

“I’m not---I don’t have anything to cover up.”

“Except for the fact that this conversation is making you very uncomfortable.”

“Well,” he sighed. “What doesn’t, these days?”

“There is a lot,” she agreed. “Buffy boinking Spike, Xander leaving me at the altar—which you missed----Willow going evil--- which you missed----you kissing me----after which you left-----oh, who cares? Giles, you’re a tourist.”

“I---am not!”

“You are, too.” She glanced over his shoulder to make certain that Dawn was still paying attention only to Dawn. “Why did you leave? Oh, yeah, sure----Buffy wasn’t growing up or whatever with you here.” She swigged her beer. “Except that was so stupid.”

“Anya, have you been waiting to tell me this? Is that why you’re saying this?”

“Well, yes, I’ve been thinking about it. Xander’s not here so I can’t tell him what I think of him, and Buffy and I have pretty much gotten over the whole sex-with-Spike thing---“

“Why…? What would…that have to do…with you?”

“Oh, well, we both had sex with Spike, but---“

Giles took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. “And is it really necessary for me to know this?”

“Well, don’t you want to know what you missed?”

“Well..”

“Okay, that’s not an answer,” Anya said briskly. “Don’t you want to test your theory at all? I mean, you leave, we grow up?”

“I’d say, quite frankly, Anya, it’s already been found wanting.”

“Well, that was no fun,” Anya said sourly. “You didn’t put up a fight at all.” They both sipped their drinks for several minutes, listening to the sound of Dawn gigging in the living room.

“So now what?” Anya asked after several minutes.

“We wait for Buffy to get to England.”

“Which will be next morning.” Anya waited patiently, then rolled her eyes. “Well, I’m not waiting, I’m going to sleep.  It’s much more efficient than worrying.”

“How many beers have you had?”

“I’ve had less beer than you’ve had Scotch.”

“And am I driving?  Certainly not. You can sleep in Buffy’s bed.”

“Dawn will bug me because I’m another girl and you’re not.”

“Oh, good, then I’m locking the door, as well,” Giles said dryly. “You two can bond.”




Giles had warned her that while he had not told Xander that she was coming, the coven was expecting her arrival, and sure enough, once she got through customs, she found someone by the luggage carousel, holding up a sign that said, “Summers.”

This someone was a startlingly attractive young man with long curly black hair, blue eyes, and alabaster skin. She came to a stop in front of him, conscious of her flight-frizzed hair, coach class-wrinkled clothes, and red-rimmed eyes. He looked as if he’d just stepped out of a pleasant shower and stepped into freshly-ironed clothes. If she’d had any energy, she’d have hated him.

“Are you Buffy?” He had an Irish accent, she noticed.

“That would be me.” She didn’t want to shake his hand because she was suddenly certain she’d get sweat all over it. “And you are?”

“Oh, I’m David. Sorry. Let me get that for you.”

With a firm smile, he wrestled the baggage cart away from her and gestured down the concourse. “Shame these things don’t come with seats, isn’t it? You must be very tired?”

“Does that mean I look like I’m tired?”

His smile became less polite and more mischievous. “I have four sisters, so you’ll have to excuse me for not answering that question without a plea bargain. But I’ve flown just to the US, myself, not even as far as California, and that was quite bad enough.”

“Where did you go?”

“New York.”

“Did you like it?”

“Well…” He grimaced. “Not much. Too noisy, really.”

“Really? What noise level are you used to?”

He deftly steered them toward the elevators, and manage to get them alone in one. “It was actually for a vampire.”

“Why wasn’t I…? Oh, was I dead, then?”

“Yes, I think you were. And Giles had his hands full in Sunnydale.”

“I suppose.” She looked at the bland elevator doors. Nothing worse than having a conversation in an elevator, she thought. There’s just nothing to look at, and it seemed impolite to just stare at someone you’d just met. “I’m sorry,” she said apologetically. “I’m just so tired, my brain isn’t working.”

“That’s okay,” he said soothingly. “You’ll get some sleep, and then you’ll feel lots better.”

Buffy glanced at him, startled. He caught her look, and raised his eyebrows, silently encouraging her to ask whatever she wanted. “Oh..” she muttered, somewhat embarrassed. “It’s just so serious why I’m here, and you’re so calm about it all.”

“That’s because I’m sure everything will work out well.”

“You….you are?” Buffy politely looked away, unable to meet his trusting eyes with her skepticism. “I’m not.”

“That’s understandable, though.” The elevator stopped, and he politely paused so she could get off first. “You’re the Slayer, right?”

Buffy glanced around, but there was no one around them. “Yes?”

“I suppose after all you’ve been through, and what you do…”

“Oh, great…” Buffy muttered.

“I’m…sorry.” He stopped, taking a deep breath and running his hand through his hair. “Amazing how I can screw up with so few words at my disposal, isn’t it? No, what I meant was…” He started walking, using the time to choose his words. “Well…you’re used to fighting, right? And enemies, all the time .But that’s not how we do things here.”

He stopped and fumbled around in his pocket for keys. Buffy eyed the car with some amusement. It was an elderly Volkswagen Beetle, but it was painted red with black dots all over it. The wheel wells were painted black, and eyes had been painted just over the headlights. He finally found the keys, waved them triumphantly, then promptly dropped them. Buffy muffled her smile in a sudden cough. He unlocked her door, then the back passenger side door, then tossed all her luggage in. While Buffy buckled herself in, she was treated to the sight of David patting his pockets for the keys, then staring at the garage floor in bewilderment. Finally, with an exasperated sigh, he rooted around under the car. Nothing. Then something seemed to strike him, and he started to poking around amongst her luggage. A jingle announced the reappearance of the keys, and Buffy had to stifle a smile. “So,” she said as he started the car. “That’s how you do things here.” He shook his head, embarrassed, but finally glanced at her.

“No, just be grateful that’s just how I do things here,” he said dryly. “But that’s why I’m just the driver.”

“You’re not a…?”

“No, not yet. Not done with my studies.”

“Your…studies? At Hogwarts?”

That got her a mildly reproachful look. “No, it’s a degree here.”

“Really?”

“Well, you know…It’s not like a doctor’s degree. But still, it takes about as long as a normal degree.”

“Oh.”

“Which is one of the things we think might have…”

“What?”

“Well, with your friend. She had a lot of talent, natural ability, but it’s not like you can just do it with a couple books and some kitchen spices.”

Had?”

He glanced at her again. “I didn’t mean that in the past tense…tense. But we just don’t know, now. Or, maybe, yet.”

“Because she’s not talking.”

“Right.”

“Could it be…?”

“Magic?” He asked. He smiled again, but this time it seemed sad more than anything else. “No, and that’s kind of the problem. Maybe with lots of things. She’s blaming magic for stuff.”

“It’s not?”

“No, it’s just people.” He caught her eye and this time there was unalloyed weariness in his eyes. “That’s half the battle, you know. Blaming the right thing, at the right time.”

“Oh,” Buffy said. “Oh.”

He heard her tone as it struck her, then stared at her as her eyes dropped. “Well, you know? One of those right things is going to be me.”



Part Ten: Resurrections

World travelers debate over what causes the worst jet lag; the journey from east to west, or vice versa. And Buffy, confronting the sapping exhaustion that came with jet lag and the need for good manners, wondered suddenly which of her own dilemmas was worse: the journey from death to life or vice versa. Both left her drained out and dry, weak and listless. There had appeared to be no recovery for her anywhere, and it felt as if she’d had a perpetually bad night’s sleep, followed by a too-early awakening.

Ironically enough, despite all the dimensions she’d been to, she’d never traveled far on earth and the jet lag hit her like a hammer. The drive was a blur of neon-streaked London streets, glimpsed through half-open eyes. There were occasional stops, and eons spent on wrong turns, with David periodically muttering “Oops, bugger,” under his breath. Then the car was stationary for a long time and she became aware that the engine was ticking to a stop. She stirred. Her eyelids felt like they’d been glued together, and she suspected that that was exactly what they looked like as well. She wondered if she’d drooled. Also, David seemed to split himself into twins, neither of which appeared to be too steady on their feet. Both seemed sympathetic, though. “C’mon, then, let’s get you to bed,” he murmured, and when she opened the car door and all but fell out, it was into a circle of many faces and helping hands. There were far too many introductions and accents and voices. She could barely keep herself upright, and in a trice, she was whisked from the car and across a cobblestone courtyard and into a building that seemed to consist of hallways and soft lights and more faces. I’ll never remember all these people, Buffy thought dispiritedly, and was startled by the bloom of a warm smile from the girl at her elbow. “That’s what everyone thinks,” she said conspiratorially, and Buffy blinked in surprise.

Her first rough estimate of roughly several thousand people had resolved itself into seven; there was David, lugging Joyce’s suitcase, and six girls of various sizes, shapes, and colors. They were all excited in a terribly quiet way, though; there was lots of whispering and giggling, and none of it had that tone to it that Buffy still remembered from high school. Despite her weariness, she began to glance around, wondering what sort of place she’d wandered into. Her only experience with covens had been at one remove, when Willow had briefly flirted with Wicca at college and come away disgusted. Willow, once more, she thought, and her head hurt.

“Here you go,” David said gently, and she was ushered into a room and silence. The girls left her.

“What are you, the butler?” Buffy asked, just before she realized that question might be rude.

He merely shrugged. “Sort of.” He gestured at the room. “Get some sleep, and then we’ll get started.”

The room, glimpsed in the moments between the opening of the door and the collapse onto the bed, was little more than a prison cell with one bunk. It had a window, a tiny little bath, and what turned out to be the most comfortable bed she’d ever found. She’d never seen or felt anything like it. It was plumped with fat quilts and fluffy pillows, and when she sank down on the mattress with a groan it sighed underneath her and conformed to her body like a huge pillow. She was asleep before she’d even exhaled her exhausted breath.




Sleep had been treacherous since her return in the fall. Too often, it soothed her temporarily, and brought back deceptive memories of peace and completion. Waking had become an ordeal for her, every morning another bitter resurrection from forgetfulness. Every morning was another battle lost against her constant weariness. She had just been at that moment where one finally surrenders to sleep, where the tensions of day time have melted away, and molecule by molecule, into creeping lassitude. Worrisome thoughts whirled away into mist, and aches and pains faded. There was something magical about that first moment, when sheets became warm, and pillow shapes became comforting. Then came the gradual melting of warmth and comfort into one’s fibers, and then deeper, into one’s bones. There had been some odd sensation of knowledge that nowhere was an alarm to jar her from this rest, that she might sleep her sleep, till all exhaustion was washed away, and wake only when she wanted, when she was ready. Beyond dreams, certain things waited, but these were not unpleasant. Familiar things shrouded by dreams, they promised to guide her return once rest was done.

There had been the sensation of a long-held breath being let go, of a constant tension being sighed away by peace. To sleep and know the night was no longer the refuge of dark things. To sleep in solemn security, and to wake, not to loss, but to acceptance and potential, these were the things that waited on the edge of her unformed dreams.

That was the perfect moment, when the warmth finally reached inside her and warmed bones that had seemed chilled for years. That was the moment she had begun to dream, as her exhaustion dissipated, and her mended spirit began to assert itself.

That was the moment they’d brought her back.




She slept through what felt like centuries, hard and deep, and swam upward through the waters of her layered memories. It was gradual and gentle. She became aware that she was waking up, but it wasn’t something being forced on her. It was just that she’d slept as much as her starved body needed, and now she was being nudged toward morning, naturally and without pressure. When she woke, it was in slow, effortless stages.

Her body told her, quite firmly, that it was seven am, but a glance at the bedside clock revealed it was only two AM. It had been morning when she arrived in London----or had it? That seemed to have been several days ago. She burrowed deeper under the warm covers, thoroughly confused.

Her eyes adjusted to the dim light cast by the streetlights, and she studied her little cell. Was Willow’s room like this? Was Xander’s? Even their names made her pulse jump eagerly. She wondered what it would be like to talk to them, and for the moment, caught as she was in some weird zone between alertness and weariness, the thought was a happy one. She looked at the clock again. There was no getting around it; it was only two AM. What on earth was she going to do for five hours?




London at night was a lot like the London she’d seen in the movies. There were rain-slicked streets, and cobblestones. The buildings made her house in Sunnydale look garishly modern, and the cars all seemed to be about the size of breadboxes. The coven appeared to be located in one of the older areas of an old city. She was strolling past another red-brick edifice when something percolated through her brain and she backed up to get another look. “AD 1556” said the cornerstone, and she gulped and blinked at the date. For an instant, she stood in awe, trying to place it in context. Two hundred years before the Revolution? Two hundred years? Then, another thought rose up: What’s under that building? And what’s under that? And that? Unfortunately, that pretty much exhausted the topic, and she took a step back and eyed the structure. Age aside, it was a half-timbered hulk that appeared to have been recently restored, and the effect was only slightly tarnished by the ghastly brick and brass monstrosity next to it. She looked at the old house, and wondered if Shakespeare had ever entered it. Looking at its neighbor, she could only think, Maybe somebody in The Clash spit on it from their tour bus. Cheered by the thought, she jammed her hands in her pockets and headed down the street, noting the sudden appearance of a metal fence at the property line of the old house. A very cemetery-looking metal fence, she thought, and stepped up her pace.

It turned out to be a park. She was just peeking through the bars of the gates when someone clearing their throat behind her made her freeze for a moment, and then turn cautiously. At least vampires seldom clear their throats.

She found herself facing a very British-looking bobby. Even before he opened his mouth, she knew he was English, location notwithstanding. Had they been in California, she still would have known he was English, and she wouldn’t have been able to pinpoint why then, either. There was just something about his chin that looked British…. With a wrench, she forced her wandering mind back. “Um…Hi!” she said.

“Lost, miss?”

“Jet-lagged,” she said wryly. Unabashedly curious, she studied him. Every button on his uniform appeared polished, and he stood ramrod straight, hands clasped behind his back. There was not so much as a cat hair anywhere on his uniform. She could even see little slices of her face in the brass bits on his coat. His hat….well, maybe he’d dressed in the dark. It looked somehow stewardess-like, and she wondered how the criminals viewed it. “I just know it’s seven in the morning.”

“Well, to an American, maybe,” the bobby said dryly. The familiarity of his accent made her heart skip for a second. “Or a vampire.”

“What?!” she gulped.

“Can’t scare you, can I?” The bobby said resignedly. “If I were to ask you, miss, would you please go back to where you’re staying?”

“I haven’t seen anyone around,” Buffy said placatingly.

“Well, that’s the problem,” the bobby said. “You never do till it’s too late.”

“Is there a lot of crime around here? Sorry,” she added, as the bobby caught her eager tone.

“Miss, are you a police officer?”

“No,” she mumbled, thinking, But I’m the Slayer, and if you’d just show me a vampire and leave me alone, I could----“What?”

“Well, if I tell you there’s crime around here, why do I get the feeling you’ll go try to go find it, and if I tell you there’s little crime around here, it will just encourage you?”

“Lucky guess?” She had the grace to look abashed as he got even more stern.

“Can I encourage you at all to go home?”

“Just let me stretch my legs a bit, okay? I’m serious, I can totally handle myself.” They looked at each other, and the bobby’s eyes warmed as he took in the set of her chin, and the way she squared her shoulders.

“I’ll be back here shortly, and you’ll be headed home, right?”

“Right.” Buffy started to offer to shake his hands, but it somehow seemed to be too informal. Saluting seemed to be out of the question. Briskly, she stepped back, and bounced on the balls of her feet. “Uh---Can I ask you a question?”

“What, miss?”

“Where are you from?”

“Why, here, miss. This is my neighborhood.”

“Where are we, exactly?”

“North London, miss. May I ask, why?”

She took a breath, trying to figure out how to phrase it. “I used to know someone who sounded just like you.”

They looked at each other, the tiny California blonde in sweats, and the tall, pale English police officer. “Used to, miss?”

“Well, I don’t mean that he’s---uh----“ What if he is? “I just haven’t heard from him in a while.”

“Come here to look for him?” The police officer studied his toes while still standing at parade rest. “Well, then, miss, might I just suggest you do so during the day? Police station’s two streets over. Do stop round and anyone there could give you a hand.”

“Okay,” Buffy said quietly. Once again, she was seized by the urge to salute or otherwise give some sort of a signal, something she seldom felt in the presence of Sunnydale cops. She couldn’t figure out why, till the officer nodded and strode away, revealing as his only weapon a slender wooden baton. It occurred to her that she’d almost never heard of British slayers, though the Watchers themselves were almost invariably English.

She waited till he’d turned the corner, then dashed along the fence till she got to the end of the park and could see down the street. At the end of the block and across the street, she saw what she was looking for; ornate iron gates, and the looming shape of a church. Her pulse picked up instantly. In an instant, she was back in her time zone, her world, her place. In a second she was at the gates and vaulting over them.

Fifteen minutes’ of walking around revealed no new graves, no disturbed soil, and the disturbing realization that she’d wandered into a park with headstones. After a while, she took note of the dates on the headstones, and not a one came any later than the turn of the century. After a couple circuits of the place, she was depressed and annoyed. What the hell’s going on here? Aren’t there any vampires around here? She’d read somewhere that some species of animal had been hunted to extinction in England during the reign of Henry VIII. Could they have done the same thing to vampires? She felt an entirely unexpected pang. What’s a country without vampires? She thought grumpily, but there was no way around it. At least for a while, the casual slay was out of the question. Feeling a curious deflation, she hoisted herself over the gate again and headed back toward the coven’s house. What’s the point? The thought that there might be no vampires around didn’t make her feel relieved, just hollow.

She walked slowly, but the bobby didn’t re-appear, and her first night—day?-- in England seemed a complete disappointment. Slumped, she trudged back to the house, and slipped inside. For the first time, the surroundings truly registered and she gaped at the place. A staircase with a newel post taller than she was faced the front door, and at its landing she glimpsed a huge stained-glass window over a window seat. Each of the banisters had been carved, rather eerily, into the shape of a different person. A hallway stretched off in either direction, and soft Persian carpets muffled her footsteps. The hallways were so wide that tables, chairs, and sofas sat along the walls, as if people might need to stop and rest. The ceilings were at least twelve feet tall, and she glimpsed the shadows of beams and painted plaster high above her. She remembered the date on the other house, and whistled. However old this house turned out to be, she didn’t think she was going to be finding fiberboard anywhere inside it. She peeked down the other end of the hall. A wide door at the end of the hall revealed the shadows of couches, chairs, and what might have been a piano. At the other end of the hallway was a simple door with an opaque window in its upper half. She headed for that one, glancing into rooms on either side. A full-sized dining room with a fireplace and wainscoting higher than her head took up one whole side of the hallway. On the other side was a locked door, a bathroom, and what looked like a little sewing room. Behind the half door was a small staircase, and beneath that, another entrance to the house, but much smaller than the grand main one. Hm, she thought. Around the corner, she found a small, humble dining room, a pantry, a huge, airy kitchen with two stoves and a sink big enough to bathe in. Beyond that was another pantry with yet another sink, a couple of wrong turns, and a charming little breakfast room that she wanted to see in daylight. There were so many doors that she began to feel like she was in a fun house. Convinced that she was headed back in the direction of the kitchen, she found herself in the grand dining room, and stepped out into the hallway again. She glanced back at the half door at the end of the hallway. Too dark down there, she thought. Can’t see what I’m doing. She headed up the main staircase instead, blaming her sudden heebie jeebies on jet lag. My new excuse, she thought. Jet lag.

Her blankets and sheets were still warm, and heated comfortingly once she slid back inside. There was no water stain on the ceiling of this room, and perversely, she missed it. At least it’s my water stain, she thought. Nice as the surroundings were, even her tiny little room, it she still longed for her familiar bed and the sound of Dawn croaking out Britney Spears in the bathroom. Once she would have included Willow in her list of ‘safe, familiar things’ but now, with Willow’s condition so tenuous, she was afraid of jinxing the future by assuming there would be a quick fix. So much was unsettled. Once she could have counted on Willow, without a second thought; but now Willow had to count on her. She didn’t know precisely what to do, and because of that, didn’t know if she would succeed. At least the old water spot in her ceiling gave her something to stare at when she was trying not to think about stuff like that.

She remembered everything she’d said to Giles about Willow and Xander and wondered if they would be able to tell what thoughts she’d harbored about them now that she was going to see them again. The thought occurred to her, What have they been saying about me? She sat bolt upright in her bed at the thought, then slumped back down into the covers. It wasn’t like there wasn’t a shortage of things to say, she thought. But—but---she gulped as she remembered Xander’s face, first realizing that Anya had had sex with Spike, and then that she herself had. It’s not like he got our approval before he had sex with Anya, she thought suddenly. Or the whole kissing-Willow stuff, either. She flopped over on her back and stared up at the ceiling again. The question is, she thought, why do I let him say stuff like that?

Just asking the question seemed to be a relief, somehow. She felt herself relax, then, drifting, not even aware of falling asleep.




The watery sunlight that woke her a few hours later seemed terribly wrong. Not only was she used to bright, almost harsh California sun, but this was not noon-like sunlight. It seemed like twilight to her, and that made no sense, because her body now believed it was early afternoon, and refused to concede the point. She stared at the little bedside clock with horror. Eight AM? Oh. My. God.

The shower she staggered to woke her up in the most unpleasant of ways; the water seemed to take forever to warm up, and when it did so, it achieved only a reluctant tepidity. She scrubbed shampoo through her hair, lathered and rinsed off everything, then wrapped not one but two towels around herself and skittered back into bed to warm up. By that time, the sunshine had changed angles slightly, but was no more welcoming. She huddled into the covers and shivered. Merry Old England, my ass, she thought. It can’t be that cold. It’s not even winter here. At the thought of winter, though, she quailed. Winter was a theoretical concept to a girl whose only experience was ice was the skating rink, but chilled now to her very bones in the narrow, if warm bed, it suddenly seemed more real than the vampires she hadn’t been able to find the previous night.

After she’d warmed up, she scrambled for her bag, tossed it on the bed, and leaped under the covers again. Dressing was a miserable, shivering affair, and she got through it by picturing the talking-to she was going to give Giles for not warning her about the weather. She pulled on two long-sleeved tee shirts, shivering, and then grabbed another shirt. Better, she thought. She peeked out the door. The scent of frying sausages instantly drifted to her, and she forgot about feeling cold. She remembered where the kitchen was from her excursion that morning, and as she got closer, the delicious smells multiplied and got so strong they became almost intoxicating. Why do drugs when you can do cholesterol? She thought. Her last thought before she turned the corner to the kitchen, was, Pancakes and maple syrup.

Her first thought, looking at Xander was, Too many pancakes and syrup.

“Buffy! Oh, my God---“

They met in the center of the kitchen, Buffy startled, because, really, Xander had gained a lot of weight, and Xander shocked because Buffy had lost so much. “God, Buff, it’s good to see you.” So little of you, he thought.

“You look good,” she punched him playfully in the stomach. Holy cow. I guess guys do eat when they’re depressed. Beats vamp hos at least.

“Yeah,” he scoffed. “Nothing to do but visit Willow, and stare at her, and then eat.”

“She really isn’t talking, is she?”

“No.” Xander said quietly. “Sometimes I can kind of tell she’s depressed, but sometimes she’s angry.”

“Angry?”

“Yeah---you know her resolve face? Sometimes she looks like that. I just can’t tell who she’s mad at,” he finished, all the air going out of his voice. “I hope it’s not me.”

“Is she still---you think---powerful?”

Xander sighed. “Not after----“ he shrugged, too uncomfortable to say it. “But I’m guessing so much, Buff. There’s just no way to tell. Of course, it could be just be that I don’t know what I’m doing. Not that that would ever happen,” he added bitterly.

“No,” Buffy said, hugging him again. She pulled back a bit and looked up at him. “I’d rather have somebody who didn’t know what they were doing, and try it anyway, and---and, you know, say so, then pretend they do and go---“ She wrinkled her nose. “You know what I mean.”

“I hope so, Buff.” He sighed again, sounding very old and frail. “Come have some breakfast.” With another squeeze, he led her over the little table in the corner, watched silently by the woman at one of the stoves. With an apologetic little shrug, she hesitated. “I’m sorry---I’m Buffy----“

The woman wiped her hands off on a towel slung over one of her shoulders and reached out a hand. She was tall and solid, with olive skin and slanted black eyes. Her thick black hair laced with pure silver. “I wouldn’t have guessed,” she said in an airy Irish accent. “Are ye hungry? After your trip and your little walk?”

“My wha---?”

“It’s a house of magic, miss,” she said dryly. “Couldn’t leave the door unlocked if it weren’t. I’m Meg, by the way.”

“What did you do, Buff?”

“Oops,” Buffy said. “I thought I’d go out and slay, but---“

“Slay what?” The woman asked curiously. “Almost no vampires in London city.”

This was evidently not news to Xander, who had grabbed a plate and was heaping it with food, while Buffy squirmed in front of the cook. The vampire shortage did not seem to surprise Xander one bit; he glanced up as Meg mentioned it, then went back to single-handedly raising Buffy’s cholesterol count.

“No vampires?” Buffy asked.

“No burials allowed inside the city,” Meg explained. “The cemeteries are all full; no place to put them. Now, the suburbs, that’s a different story, but that’s a train ride away.”

“Don’t the vampires ever take the---?”

“Why bother so much? Sometimes you see them at the clubs,” she admitted. “But there’s---“

“Club-hopping vampires?” Buffy exclaimed.

“There really aren’t any good clubs in the suburbs,” Meg acknowledged. The statement seemed to pain her more than the clubbing habits of British vampires.

“But---do you---just let them?”

“Not all of them,” Meg said uncomfortably.

“But what happens if they decide to grab a snack on the way?”

“A---Well, there’s some shops, certainly, but----Oh!” The light dawned. “Oh, dearie, most British vampires aren’t like that.”

“Like----what? Blood-sucking, soul-less----“

“Well, as long as the blood’s not human---“

Xander had sat down at the table by this time, having both refilled his plate and filled Buffy’s. He was glancing back and forth from Meg to Buffy, seemingly unconcerned with the characteristics of British blood-sucking.

“But how do you know it’s not human?” Buffy exclaimed.

“Mad-cow disease,” Meg said calmly. “How do you think we really solved that problem?”




After a fairly long and involved discussion about the now-burgeoning animal blood black market in Britain, Buffy eyed her sausages with some caution. “They’re really good,” Xander assured her.

“But----“

“And they’re safe,” Meg added, glowering. “I didn’t say it was all vampires, you know. You’d think you’d be happy not to have slay so much.”

“But----“ Buffy was struggling to get her mind around it. “I heard that---I heard that all the sick animals were killed, and that that was how they got rid of Mad-cow disease.”

“Well, you only heard part of the truth,” Meg said. “I didn’t say it was all vampires. Didn’t happen so much on the Continent.”

“But---it happened,” Buffy added. “It did happen.”

“It was practical.” Meg shrugged off Buffy’s bewilderment. “Now, mind you, not even most British vampires helped. “ She glanced left and right as if fearful of eavesdroppers. “But there’s so few of them to begin with, and so many of them don’t even attack people, well, how do you really think people discovered Mad-cow diseases anyway?”

“Vampires?” Buffy asked skeptically.

“Yes,” Meg said firmly. “If people had taken them seriously, that whole mess wouldn’t have happened.” She glanced around suspiciously again. “I’m not saying the situation in Scotland and Ireland is the same, mind you. It’s a bit different, there.”

“How so?” Buffy asked, openly skeptical now.

“Well, there have been problems there, especially in Ireland,” Meg said reluctantly. “But even so, British vampires have always been much different from American vampires.”

“But----“ Buffy simply couldn’t think of a response to that. She had no way of knowing whether or not Meg was telling the truth, but every shred of common sense she had made her scoff. Vampires voluntarily eschewing hunting in favor of animal blood? According to Meg, a fair proportion of British vampires had been doing precisely that to begin with, after being very likely turned by ‘those foreign vampires.’ It hadn’t always been this way, Meg was willing to concede, but the mad cow crisis had certainly sped it along, what with all that beef and blood being suddenly being rendered unfit for human consumption. A world where humans were actually grateful to vampires? Buffy simply could not take it in. And since when did vampires have the ability to make decisions like that?

Spike did, she thought quietly. Without a soul, he tried.

He was the exception, resisted all her instincts. He was unique.

She and Meg were left staring at one another over the table, Meg implacable, Buffy openly skeptical. After a long pause, Meg got up heavily. “A lot to take in, I expect. Have a good breakfast and think about it.”

She waited till the other woman had left the room before turning to Xander. “So?”

“So? Oh, well, are you asking if…?”

“Yes.”

He shrugged. Buffy was startled to see half his plate was already empty. “Well, they told me about it. It seems to be true; I mean, I haven’t gone slaying or anything, because, hey, not the Slayer here, but----One of the witches even showed me on the computer, too. There’s just something weird here.”

“Here? England here, or London here?”

“Well, pretty much both.” Buffy watched, fascinated, as Xander methodically worked his way through his sausages. In the time it took her to eat two, he’d eaten five. They were very good, certainly, she thought, but he was going at such a clip she wasn’t sure if he was actually tasting them or what. “I mean, they told me that lots of British vampires never really kill humans.”

“Not at all?”

“No, not at all.” He swallowed, paused, and watched, almost amused, as Buffy tried to make sense of it.

“So…what do they do? Eat salad?”

“A lot of times, their family makes sure of what happens to them,” Xander said. “I read this whole huge thing on the intenet.”

“You---reading about vampires?”

Xander looked abashed. “Well, you know, it was interesting. And I was bored. I couldn’t talk to Will, and I didn’t want to run up their phone bill---“

“So you researched?”

“Yes.” Down went another sausage. “And it really is weird here, with the vampires and the whole Slayer thing. I actually saw the Grand Pooh-Bah of the Slayers’ Council.”

“Travers?”

“Old fart who looks constipated?”

Meg poked her head back in, evidently unable to resist temptation. “You just described most of Parliament.” She nodded at his plate. “Shall I make some more, then?”

Xander managed to look vaguely embarrassed, shaking his head no. Buffy smiled down at her plate, skewered one of her own sausages, and with many exaggerated sounds of appreciation, ate it. “You know, Buff, if you keep doing that, I’ll give up mine just to see you eat something.”

Buffy’s jaw dropped. “So what are you saying, Xander?”

“I’m saying it’s just----it’s good to see you, uh---“

“What?!”

“Well, you know, you are kind of---“

“What?!”

“Jeez, relax, I wasn’t going to say the ‘f’ word,” he muttered, thinking that the only ‘f’ word one could say about her would be ‘frail.’ He remembered how just before they’d left, how he’d watched her one day, in the California sun, and how he’d been struck by the way the bones in her elbow moved so visibly beneath her translucent skin. “But---you’re so thin, Buffy.”

She glanced down into her plate, undone by his concern. Leave it to Xander to notice, she thought. And then say something about it, even when no one else would. “I’m not, really----“

“Uh, Buff----“ His tone made her look up at him. “Buffy, you look like an Olympic gymnast. And not in a good way.”

She didn’t know what to say, so she bit her lip and looked down at her plate. All her appetite had abruptly fled, chased away by the emotion that clogged her throat at his concern. She swallowed, trying to regain control. Then she picked up her fork, speared one of the links on Xander’s plate, and stuffed it, whole, in her mouth. Meeting him firmly in the eye, she chewed very loudly and swallowed. Xander’s look was rueful as he considered her gesture. After an extremely interesting pause, he put down his fork and slid his plate in front of hers. “Okay, then…Not your mother, I know. But a friend, right? Maybe a fat friend, sure, but---“ They both looked down at the table. The air was so fraught with tension, with things long-unsaid that threatened to burst forth, that both struggled to breathe calmly. “You know, Willow’s not the only one around here.”

“Only one what?”

“Magical casualty, or whatever. I’m sure there’s a technical term.” He nodded at her plate, then picked up a clean fork and transferred what was left on his to hers. “Clean your plate, young lady, and then all will become clear.”

Buffy had fought vampires, demons, and mayors. She had dated two vampires, fought a crooked Slayer, and died twice. But never before in her life had she finished two platefuls of food, and by the time she was done, she wanted to lie down with a cold compress on her forehead. “What do you mean, magic casualties?”

“Maybe I should explain that,” a calm voice said behind her.




The upper floor of the house, the warmest and sunniest floor, was given over to those unfortunates who had run afoul of the magic that permeated British life. “I thought Harry Potter was a documentary,” Olivia told Buffy dryly. “England has been civilized for a thousand years, and inhabited for God only knows how many centuries beyond that.” Olivia, who admitted to forty and looked to be in her mid-twenties, caught Buffy’s surprise and raised an eyebrow. “I hate plastic surgery, but a glamour or two never hurt anyone.”

“A glamour?”

“A temporary spell,” Olivia’s tone seemed perpetually set on amused cynicism, and Buffy found that it encouraged her to be more blunt than she normally would.

“Why is that okay? And Willow----?”

“It’s not something I do every day,” Olivia explained. “I’m not going to get plastic surgery, but every now and then it’s nice or it’s necessary. Doing magic to make easy things easier simply is not good. You get into bad habits, and forget what it’s for.”

“Well, what is it for?”

“To do magical things,” Olivia said mildly. “It’s not for housework. Using these forces to open doors and things like that is not appropriate.”

“Okay,” Buffy said. There really didn’t seem to be anything to add to her end of the conversation, so she looked down the long hallway before them. “Are all these people like Willow?”

“Oh, no, Willow’s unique,” Olivia said firmly. “Most of the poor people here have been injured by magic. They weren’t performing magic or associating with witches or anything. They’re bystanders.”

“Drive bys,” Buffy muttered.

“In a manner of speaking, yes.” Olivia gestured at the first door. Looking into the window made Buffy’s heart skip a beat. The woman asleep in the bed was visible only as a tuft of bright-red hair, and she glanced sharply at Olivia, who shook her head. “No, not Willow. Poor thing had an encounter with one of those Irish vampires.” Buffy tried to find some amusement at the fact that vampires wasn’t enough of a classification, that a nationality was really the determining factor, but her sense of humor had long since been bludgeoned by her surprise.

“Was she turned?”

“No, but it was an awful shock. The hospital really isn’t equipped to handle this sort of injury. The blood loss---the adjustment, the realization. Poor thing had never seen a vampire before. Didn’t believe in them, you know.” She moved on to the next door, and the next. All the people within seemed to be sleeping, as it was quite exhausting to be healed of some sort of magical injury. Buffy peeped in doors and saw a young man, stretched out on his bed, staring at the ceiling. He met her eyes briefly, then rolled over on his side. “A lot of the time, the injury itself isn’t so bad----it’s the shock. Live your whole life, thinking there’s no monsters, and then one attacks you. And then--We usually have to use magic to heal them, and then we have to get rid of that. It’s not good for it to linger.” The fourth door Buffy looked through featured only a heap of clothes curled up on top of the sun-washed covers, and a messy tangle of curly hair. “Next to Willow, this poor soul is the most serious one we’ve got. Doesn’t even remember his own name. And he’s got…the strangest…aura I’ve ever seen.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, all living creatures give off on an aura. His is terribly faint some days, and other days---when the poor thing is having a bad day---it’s very dark. But we’re trying.”

There really was nothing to say to that, so Buffy nodded and tried to look like she understood. In truth, the jet lag, the food, and the shocks she’d been receiving were taking their toll, and each case that Olivia recounted only made her head hurt more. The last room that Olivia showed her was heartbreaking. A little girl sat in her room with a kind-looking attendant, trying to play dolls with bandaged hands. Her head was also bandaged, and Buffy saw angry red skin on her neck and chest. “Oh, my God. What happened to her?”

“Her mother,” Olivia said quietly. “Wanted her to win one of those beauty pageants. Quite dreadful.” Once again, Buffy was unable to form words, till she looked around and noticed that they were at the end of the hallway. The light reaching the hallway from the windows in the doors was now fading to gray as the fickle English sun ducked behind yet another cloud. She shivered, despite her multiple layers of clothes. “Uh…Is Willow up here?”

“Yes.”

“Are we going to…?”

“Do you want to?”

“No,” Buffy said quietly. “Not just yet. I need to talk to Giles first.”



Part Eleven

“Why didn’t you tell me about the weather?”

“I beg your pardon?”

The connection was awful; Buffy could hear snapping and popping on the line, and occasional buzzing noises. “And the vampires, too,”she added dryly. “The fact that they don’t bite people.”

“Oh…Ah, well-----“ Buffy could practically hear Giles’ discomfort over the line. He’s probably pinching the bridge of his nose right now. “Buffy, I’d like to discuss research with you more often, but---“ The skepticism in his voice came over the connection just fine.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah…I almost ruined my shoes. They’re suede and they’re expensive, and, well--- So what’s the deal here? Olivia tried to explain it to me, and…it just made no sense at all.”

“All at once, I supposed it didn’t.” There was a peculiar pause, and Giles said cautiously, “Olivia?”

“Well, yes, there was a lady named Meg, too, but…”

“Ah, well….So, then…” Giles cleared his throat. Buffy heard blips and pops in the connection, and she tried to remember how Giles had explained the time difference. “And what did Olivia say?”

“Well, if I’d understood it, would I be calling you? Mad cow disease, and---and how British vampires are different.”

“Olivia,” Giles said fondly, and Buffy’s ears perked up. No doubt about that tone. “Ah, well, anyway…Yes. Well..Yes, there’s that. It’s very complicated, but essentially, Britain’s isolation from Europe----“

“Giles, they do have the Chunnel now, you know.”

“Yes, but they also have France.”

“Giles,” Buffy said disapprovingly, but Giles cut her off.

“Buffy, you might consider it ancient history, but Britain and France have long had a certain…”

“This is your revenge, isn’t it?”

“I beg your pardon?”

“All the times I begged off research, you’re just going to rub it in now, aren’t you?”

“No, Buffy, really. If that bothered me, I’d have fallen on my pencil a long time ago. I’ve just resigned myself to my fate.”

“Well, here’s your big chance, Giles. I don’t think this’ll happen again, so you might want to take advantage of it.”

“Are you sitting down?”

“Oh, God, what have I done?”

“Buffy----“

“Just kidding, Giles.”

But she did sit down and close her eyes, the better to absorb what he was saying. In her mind, she could picture him sitting on the couch in the living room, rubbing the bridge of his nose as he stared thoughtfully at the evil coffee table, collecting his thoughts. In her imagination, Anya and Dawn were conveniently elsewhere, so she could have his undivided attention. “Well,” he muttered, as the magnitude of this opportunity hit him. “For quite some time, British families have been fighting vampires in their own ways.”

All that was required of her, Buffy saw, was that she poke the conversation along and grasp the high points. “How long?”

“I believe it really began in earnest soon after World War I.”

“Why?”

“There were so many people lost during that war, that when vampires flooded Great Britain after the war, people simply were not willing to sacrifice any others. So British families began taking those of their families who had fallen victim to vampires, and they began watching for when they rose, and taking them themselves.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, either they’d wait for the rising, or they’d track them down. But in the end, many British vampires were kept at home, and fed animal blood so that they never developed the taste for human blood.”

“But---but---they’re demons, Giles.” Uncertainly, she added, “Aren’t they?”

“That’s a good question, one that I wish the Council would address. There’s exceptions, obviously, but it seems socialization is able to keep many vampires from attacking humans. That, and not exposing them to human blood.”

“Is that all?”

“Well, as I said…” Giles said uncomfortably. “Many, but not all. Of course, there’s no chance that any organization outside the Council would have the ability to study this, but they haven’t done so.”

“Why not?”

Giles remained silent for so long that Buffy wondered just how unnerved the subject made him. “Well, Buffy, think about it. Look at…well, look at….Spike.” He sighed, and added, “I’m sorry, Buffy.”

“No,‘s okay,” she said cheerfully. “Totally fine here.” She cleared her throat. “What about him?”

“Well, one has to admit, he’s unique, but I have to wonder if there’s not a lesson there for all of us.”

“Such as?” she asked carefully.

“Well, his chip socialized him to humans as being something more than food.”

I like this world, a sarcastic voice whispered in Buffy’s ear. Happy Meals on legs.

“Once that happened, the circle of humans whom he regarded as being more than just food widened, and his motivations became less and less selfish. He’s an interesting case. I’m sorry,” he added again.

“But do you think that’s what’s going on here?”

“It’s hasn’t been as fast as Spike’s…” Giles sighed. “But then again, he did have the chip. I know, personally, of several vampires who hold night jobs. Their strength makes them very prized workers in some fields, but of course, with the economy being this bad, there’s competition, and there’s been some unfortunate..incidents.”

“Unfortunate?”

“Oh, yes. I can recall one case where a vampire was exposed to sunlight by his co –workers, as a consequence of jealousy. For that reason, they tend to choose jobs where they can work by themselves.”

“Really?” What about the police department?”

“I believe there are, in fact, two vampire policemen in the City.”

“Really?”

“This was the last time I was there.” She could practically hear him shrug. “Of course, they’re more vulnerable to bleeding to death than humans, but they’re very fast, obviously.”

“What about the cows, Giles?”

“Oh, well, that was when mad cow disease was discovered. Obviously, vampires were buying all the blood from the slaughterhouses…”

“But they can’t get sick, can they?”

“No, no, of course not. But they could tell that something was wrong with the blood. And no one would listen.”

“Really,” Buffy muttered.

“Indeed. After all, it would mean admitting that there were vampires in Britain.”

They sat in silence for a long time, and Buffy listened to the sound effects on the line. “Giles…What about the other vampires?”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Meg said vampires from other countries.”

“Ah, yes, France for example,” he said sourly.

“Giles!”

“Buffy, you are simply not aware of the history between France and England. The Hundred Years’ War, for example…”

“God, Giles, you make France and England sound like Dawn and me. I have blonde hair, she has dark hair, and you have an English accent, and they have French accents. But instead of fighting about the bathroom, you’re just fighting about…continents.”

“That is not true,” Giles said stiffly. “They’re just so…bloody pretentious!---about it. Really, the only reason French vampires don’t attack Londoners is because they claim the taste of the blood is so…”

“Giles.”

“So…instead of acting like vampires, they act like….?”

“Like French people,” he answered tiredly. “You have no idea how disconcerting it is to have one’s clothes criticized by a demon.”

“But there’s nothing wrong with your clothes.” Honesty compelled her to continue in a small voice. “But there’s a lot of tweed.”

“I’m British, I’m entitled to tweed. Aside from which, I simply refuse to accept criticism from a vampire with a 1970’s porn star mustache and a Mickey Mouse tee shirt.”

“Maybe he was being ironic?”

“I doubt it, Buffy, he had on a Mickey Mouse watch as well. And now, long after I dusted him, I am forced to refer to an oversized cartoon rodent twice as many times as I’ve done so in the past five years. It’s…infuriating.”

“So you hate Mickey, too?”

“No, Buffy, I don’t. It’s simply that…that….” She could hear an explosive, exasperated sigh over the phone, and knew that he was rubbing his forehead now. “Watching used to be such a simple profession. You watched. You trained. You studied. What you were never forced to do was discuss continental fashions.”

“Poor Giles,” Buffy said soothingly. Giles snorted, and Buffy clapped her hand over her mouth to smother the impending giggles. “So I guess I won’t be doing a lot of staking, will I?”

“Not unless you go to Paris,” Giles said bitterly. “I understand, actually, that there’s quite a fashion going on there now….”

“For…Mickey Mouse tee shirts?”

“For vampires,” Giles said. “We’ve heard reports that it’s some sort of intellectual fad now.”

“You mean….like..how?”

“People voluntarily offering themselves to vampires, at least in the larger cities.”

“You’re serious?”

“I’m serious.” And I’m frightened, he added mentally, but he kept that to himself. “I’ve heard of similar things going on in the former Eastern bloc countries. We had reports last year that a city in the Ukraine became entirely possessed by vampires, when starving people simply couldn’t take it any longer.”

“Has that been verified?”

“No,” Giles said quietly. “You see…there’s been no word since then.”

“Have you…?”

“We sent someone there a month ago. He hasn’t been heard from since.”

“Oh, that’s bad.”

There was a painful pause, then, while they considered their conversational options. “I should go,” Buffy said.

“All right then. Did you find out all you needed?”

A mental image arose before her then, of a small city with European-style old buildings, with balconies and fancy masonry. It was night-time, and the street was full of vampires---nothing but vampires. In her mind’s eye, she saw amongst them, a dazed English vampire, his Watcher tweed ripped and dirty, his eyes hollow with hunger that he would not assuage with murder. She shook off the vision with an effort. “Yes,” she said, far too perkily. “I’m good.”

“Well, ah…have you spoken to Willow, then?”

“No, not yet.”

“Procrastination only makes it worse, Buffy.”

“I know,” she said quietly. “I know, I know. It’s just so hard.”

“The longer you wait, the more difficult it gets, Buffy.”

She bit back a retort. He was right. He was definitely right, that was the problem. It just seemed that the more right someone was, the more she wanted to argue with them. “I just don’t know what to say to her, Giles.”

“You’ll think of something,” he said firmly. “Soon. I’ll let you go then, won’t I? So you can think about it.” Gently, he clicked off, but he stayed on the couch for several minutes, staring at the floor.

That sounded like an order, Buffy thought miserably.