Giles sat in the driver’s seat of Spike’s jeep and stared out the windshield considering the nature of trust. He’d never imagined that Willow might stop believing in him, and it was shocking how much it hurt. He had taken for granted that, as the adult, trust was for him to bestow or withhold. But she was right – maybe even righteous – to feel betrayed by his actions since Buffy’s death. Particularly his accusation of slipshod research, of which he was now ashamed. No matter Willow’s actions these last few weeks, it was clear she’d lost her faith in Giles long before he lost his in her. That was on him.
And even her more recent actions did not make her a different person. She had power, and she was abusing it. Like many before her, including Giles himself. Willow was still Willow. And while, right now, they did not trust one another, Giles hoped they both still cared enough to change that, with time and effort.
It was time to stop seeing himself as the arbiter of trust, and start actually trusting.
It wasn’t until her forehead collided with Dawn’s that Buffy woke up.
“Ow!” Dawn cried, shocked out of her own restless sleep. “What’d you do that for?” She sat up, rubbing at her forehead. “If this leaves a mark, Mom’ll—” She came to a sharp stop.
Buffy was too involved in reacclimatising to notice the words. She’d been so deeply asleep that just opening her eyes felt strange and surreal. She took in a shaky breath and blinked a few times before finally meeting her sister’s eyes. “Sorry,” she said muzzily, clumsily sitting upright. Buffy expected Spike to be there, not Dawn, and she’d forgotten how groggy she got after sleepy tea.
“Whatever,” Dawn replied softly, trying and failing not to care.
Buffy forced her eyes to focus on her alarm clock. Glowing red numbers flashed seven forty-one back at her. “Shouldn’t you have left for school already?”
Dawn’s expression turned mulish. “It’s still Sunday, duh.” Dawn gestured at the very obviously dark window. “Are you blind or something?”
Buffy swung her legs out and over the edge of the bed, which seemed to sap the last of her energy. She shouldn’t still be this tired. “Why are you even in here?” she asked, her voice small.
“‘Cause I’m a dumbass,” Dawn snapped, leaping off the bed. Then she flounced out of the room, slamming the door behind her.
Buffy forced herself to stand up, and her knee immediately buckled at the weight. Oh. She’d forgotten about that. The memories from last night prompted her shoulder to start aching again, or maybe they just made her notice the pain. Buffy pulled her sleeve out of the way and ripped off the gauze to look at her two puncture wounds: healing nicely. She flexed her hand a couple times. It hurt, but not badly enough to avoid using it. And bonus, the wound had sealed up enough she could get away without re-bandaging it. More carefully, Buffy stood up and slowly started putting weight on her bad knee. It would be at least another day before she could risk a shower, maybe three or four before walking normally. Joy. Deciding she was clean enough from last night’s bath, Buffy half-hopped, half-limped herself over to her dresser and started getting out clothes.
Fully dressed, she sat back down on her bed and stared at the wall. She was hungry, but it felt distant and slightly surreal, like it was someone else’s body feeling the pangs. The thought of any movement exhausted her, let alone leaving the bed again.
Where had Spike gone? She’d heard him arguing with Giles and she’d done her best to make sure he had his pyjamas. He should have been here by the time she finished Tara’s tea.
Distantly, she heard the front door opening and closing, the bang sending a piercing shudder of anxiety through her. Then Xander’s voice called out, and Buffy knew she’d have to go downstairs. Her face crumpled in an attempt at a sob, but she tamped it down, pulling blankness around her like a cloak. She could do this. She could.
Spike finally managed to get far enough ahead to drop down into the tunnels running under Sunnydale. The bot’s night vision still wasn’t as good as his and it had no sense of smell; he hoped to lose it for good down there. Not for the first time, Spike wished fervently he’d never commissioned the stupid bloody thing.
As soon as Giles mentioned there were ghouls in Sunnydale Memorial, Xander got out the flamethrower and put it in his truck. He’d bought it wholesale through his company not long after they took him on permanently. Technically, it was a propane vapour torch for industrial-strength weeding and the unfreezing of pipes, but as soon as he saw it in a trade magazine, Xander thought of ghouls. He’d been waiting to surprise Buffy with it ever since.
All day, Xander felt adrift: it would be his first night staying at Richard’s place. Their place, now. So instead of unpacking, he got out the coffee table he’d been making for Buffy and Dawn and finished the last round of sanding and varnishing. The work grounded him, and its purpose made him feel like a better person, or at least a less helpless one. He knew he was basically arm candy when it came to killing vampires and demons. And as for research, his job was keeping everyone fed and watered – even if Giles said his ideas were worth something occasionally. Xander could still repair Buffy’s house, replace her things when they were broken, even if he didn’t really know how to fix her.
Dawnie was in deep snit, barely acknowledging his presence when she opened the door, and then slamming herself back into her bedroom and letting the bar drop loud enough to shake the walls. Giles and Tara clearly weren’t home. “Buffy?” Xander called out. “You decent?”
“Just a sec!” Buffy called back. She limped slowly down the stairs, busted knee more than obvious. She looked like she hadn’t slept in a week.
As she reached the hallway, Xander held up the flamethrower, grinning.
“Wha-huh?” Buffy asked. She saw a long rod with a rubber hose connecting it to a canister of something-or-other.
“It’s a propane vapour torch,” Xander said proudly. “I bought it a while ago, for ghouls, but….”
“This is the first time we’ve had any,” Buffy finished, doing her best to smile. Once upon a time, this would have absolutely made her week – maybe even her month. She desperately wanted to be enthusiastic. “Just what I’ve always wanted!”
Xander’s smile faltered, and Buffy realised that had probably come out sarcastic.
“But also,” Xander put down the torch, took her arm, and led her into the living room. Stepping to one side like a bullfighter, he revealed the brand new coffee table now sitting in front of the sofa. “Da da-da daa!”
Tears sprang to Buffy’s eyes, even though she wasn’t quite sure if it was happiness or overwhelm. “Thank you,” she whispered. Xander seemed to get her intentions, anyway. After he helped her to sit down semi-gracefully, Buffy ostentatiously put her bad leg up on the new table. He grinned at her and she did her very best to grin back.
“Have you guys eaten?” Xander asked.
Buffy shook her head, but before she could say anything more, the front door opened, and Giles came through, clutching a sheaf of papers in one hand and looking like he’d aged ten years.
“Hey, Giles,” Xander said, his stomach clenching a little.
“Xander.” Giles said absently. Then, “Buffy, we need to talk.”
“Chinese?” Xander asked, looking back and forth between Buffy and Giles.
Giles nodded, and Buffy said, “Yeah, thanks.”
Xander went to find the menu in the kitchen. These days, he wasn’t so sure he wanted to know what Giles needed to talk to Buffy about. Plus, he was Xander, king of takeout. He knew his place.
Buffy stared up at Giles expectantly.
He forced himself to sit down in the chair opposite the sofa. “Have you realised that Spike’s chip doesn’t work on you?”
Buffy’s heart thundered in her ears. “Yes,” she said slowly, Giles’ words reverberating inside her head. Because of course she’d noticed. She’d just been very, very carefully making sure she didn’t acknowledge that, especially to herself.
Giles slumped back into his chair. “It’s only you,” he said quietly, almost under his breath. “There’s no danger to anyone else.”
Buffy laughed. “Just a danger to me?”
Giles gripped the arms of the chair so hard his knuckles turned white. “I no longer believe there is any danger to you.”
Buffy huddled into herself. “Except for how I came back wrong,” she said dully, curling her good leg against her chest like a security blanket and tucking her chin into her knee.
She seemed suddenly tiny to Giles; all that vitality and strength that normally made her larger than life were gone. His face creased with distress. “I am absolutely certain that you are as human as you ever were, and that everything will turn out right in the end.”
Buffy smiled wanly; it hurt her heart to see Giles look so desperate. “I didn’t ask you to lie to me.”
He swallowed into an impossibly dry throat, then forced himself to sit up straight. “I am not lying.” He just about managed haughty.
Buffy’s smile broadened. “Find out for me?” she asked. “I need to know.”
Giles nodded. “I’m going back to England. There are resources there….” He watched Buffy carefully for an adverse reaction, but she was just waiting quietly for him to finish. “Not forever,” he added quickly. “I’ve, er, I’ve taken over Xander and Anya’s lease. At least for the next six months.”
Buffy’s eyes were wet again. “Thank you. It means a lot you’re staying.” She looked down at her hands. “How long do you think you’ll be away?”
Giles told her exactly what he’d told Tara the night before. Then promised he’d bring the pie for Thanksgiving, and had to bite his tongue to keep from offering more.
That was when he finally noticed the new coffee table. He ran one hand admiringly over the edge.
“Xander made it,” Buffy said proudly.
Just then, Xander poked his head into the living room, phone in hand.
“Speak of the devil,” Giles said.
“Do I have something on my face?” Xander asked, put off by all the staring.
“This table’s quite exceptional,” Giles said. Here, at least, was a relationship he could salvage. He wasn’t so sure about Willow anymore. “Beautiful craftsmanship.”
Xander felt inches taller. “Thanks.” He grinned. “I just came to ask who else was eating tonight.”
“Tara should be home any minute,” Buffy said.
Xander and Giles seemed to be waiting for her to continue.
“What?” Buffy looked back and forth between them.
“Nothing,” Xander said quickly.
“And Spike?” Giles asked quietly.
“He left, didn’t he?” Buffy said, shifting uncomfortably.
“Ah,” Giles said softly.
“I’ll, uh, I’ll just go make that order,” Xander said, visibly uncomfortable.
“Once Tara gets back, there are some things I need to say to all of you,” Giles said.
Spike stood outside the door to Buffy’s house for a good few minutes before even trying to open it. He didn’t really think he’d been disinvited – he knew his chip still worked, and with any luck that Mears kid had provided the proof. But Spike wouldn’t put it past Giles to talk Buffy into it if he didn’t get the answers he wanted. And Tara had looked absolutely terrified last night. If she told Buffy she didn’t feel safe, the Slayer would protect her. No question.
He unlocked the door, and very, very slowly pushed it open. No barrier. Feeling weak with relief, Spike slipped into the house and shut the door silently behind him. He took two steps into the hallway and stopped dead. Giles, Xander, Tara, Buffy and Dawn were calmly seated around the dining table, mid-way through dinner.
Spike looked to Buffy first, of course, but she’d just slurped up a giant mouthful of noodles and was busy chewing like a chipmunk at the far end of the table. He couldn’t tell whether or not she was brassed off – the business with his clothes in the bathroom last night had thrown him and he didn’t know where they stood now. But at least she was eating.
Dawn waved happily at him from her perch at the nearest end, mouth also full, and Spike crept cautiously into the dining room. He nearly fainted from shock when Xander, a slightly constipated smile on his face, pushed out the other chair on his side of the table and motioned for Spike to sit. It put him between Xander and Buffy, and the place was already laid. As Spike sat down, Tara gave him what looked suspiciously like a perfectly genuine smile of welcome from across the table. Even Giles nodded politely in greeting. Spike smiled back at them uncertainly. “You lot been smokin’ somethin’ while I was out?”
Giles gave him a dark look and said, “Don’t be ridiculous.”
Dawn laughed outright; she still seemed normal, at least. Then she passed Spike a box of what smelled like extra spicy Szechuan beef – a dish no one but him would touch, let alone eat – and the last remaining egg roll. “You’re welcome,” she said expectantly.
“Ta, love,” Spike replied automatically, still dazed. Someone had ordered specially for him.
“That is your regular, right?” Xander asked. “The guy taking the order said it was.”
Xander had ordered specially for him.
“You could’ve asked me, you know,” Dawn said petulantly, glaring at Xander.
“You a pod person?” Spike asked, trying to get a whiff of the boy, but it was hard to tell with all the food competing for attention.
Dawn laughed again. “God, you’re such a freak. Why can’t you just let people be nice to you?”
Spike looked to Giles in mute supplication. Surely he, at least, still hated him?
“The printouts from Warren Mears have, er, exonerated you. As it were,” Giles said stiffly, then went back to eating.
“I get to keep you,” Dawn said, grinning from ear to ear.
Spike grinned back at her bemusedly. He wasn’t aware that had ever been up for debate.
“I’m sorry about getting scared,” Tara said, with a guilty smile. “I should have b-believed you.”
“Right,” Spike said, stunned. Not quite sure how to react, and never one to look a gift horse in the mouth, he picked up the fork in front of him and started eating. Xander and Dawn picked up a mostly good-natured argument about his failure to consult her in the ordering of dinner, while Tara was getting advice from Giles about one of her midterms. Buffy was actually eating, which seemed to be taking all of her attention and energy. It was all very mundane. Spike pinched himself, but nothing changed.
At the next lull in conversation, Giles said, “I’ve booked a flight back to London for tomorrow evening.”
Spike stopped, fork halfway to his mouth. Glancing around, it was clear this was not a surprise to anyone else.
Giles turned to Spike. “I expect to be back by Thanksgiving at the latest.”
“He’s moving into Anya and my old apartment after,” Xander added – again, clearly for Spike’s benefit. “We handed over the keys today.”
Spike opened his mouth to speak, but was too bewildered to come up with any actual words.
“Oh, and, uh, Giles and I are going out to use Buffy’s new flamethrower on the ghouls after dinner,” Xander continued. “You wanna come?”
Spike dropped his fork, shoved his chair back and stood up. “No.” He waved one finger in the air while staring around at each of them accusingly. “I’ve tried my best, but I just can’t … what the bloody hell is going on here? ‘M I about to die or somethin’?”
Giles sighed, then carefully used a paper napkin to wipe a tiny spec of sauce off of his mouth. “There’s no need for such dramatics. You live here, and it’s high time you were treated accordingly.”
Spike kept looking around at their faces frantically, more than a little desperate now for the other shoe to drop. Because there had to be one, didn’t there?
“And you should probably stop pretending to sleep in the basement,” Tara added quietly.
Buffy’s head shot up. “What?” her voice was hoarse with fear.
Xander gave Buffy an openly pityingly look.
Spike’s hands dropped to his sides, all his attention riveted on Buffy.
Tara frowned. Dawn recognised it as the one Tara used on her when she suspected she was lying.
“One person doesn’t need two bedrooms,” Tara said primly.
Spike’s jaw dropped.
“How long have you known?” Buffy asked. She shrank into her chair like she was expecting someone to hit her.
“Pretty much from the first night,” Tara said, wincing. It was never nice to tell someone their attempts to be discreet had failed.
Xander said, “Me too,” raising his hand in solidarity.
Dawn’s hand followed immediately after. Giles, sighing, raised his a beat later.
Spike’s mouth closed with a snap.
“Oh,” Buffy said. She seemed to have finally worked out that there was no axe to fall. “Does everyone know?”
“Well, no one took an ad out or anything.” Xander’s smile slipped as his attempt to joke fell flat. “But Anya convinced me to believe the evidence of my own eyes.” More seriously, he added, “It’s pretty obvious you haven’t slept since you came back unless you’re unconscious or Blood Breath’s been in the room with you.”
Spike perked up marginally at the nickname. At least some things hadn’t changed.
“And let’s not forget the sexcapades while our memories were gone,” Dawn said snidely. “Or the fact that all of Spike’s clothes are in your room.”
“I almost never need to change the sheets in the bed,” Giles added reluctantly.
“And Spike’s not very quiet on the stairs,” Tara said sheepishly. Then, turning to Spike, “We’ve always been able to hear you. Sorry.”
If Spike was a blusher, he would have been scarlet.
“Why didn’t you say anything?” Buffy asked.
“We were waiting for you to tell us,” Tara said gently.
“If you didn’t want to say anything, we didn’t want to push you,” Giles added, even more gently.
“Oh,” Buffy said again. Then: “Everyone gets that the sleeping together is totally platonic, right?”
Spike rolled his eyes. This, too felt like more familiar ground. Even if it was completely true.
“I’m not touching that one with a ten foot barge pole,” Xander said, standing up. “So!” He slapped his hands and rubbed them together. “Who’s for flambéeing some ghouls?”
Giles stood up.
“Me!” Dawn said, springing to her feet eagerly. “Totally up for flambée-age.”
A chorus of resounding ‘no’s echoed around the room.
Dragging her feet, Dawn helped Tara clear the dishes, leaving Buffy and Spike together at the table, both too stunned to move.
Davis insisted on driving her to the airport. As if it wasn’t bad enough the Watchers’ Council ordered her to leave a perfectly good job at SOAS and move to small-town California, now she had to pretend to like it, too. June Odukwe hitched her bag around to her other shoulder and smiled even wider. Running a gallery in Sunnydale might be fun, but she had no illusions she’d be welcomed by the Slayer or her Watcher.
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