Buffy blinked back a tear as she remembered the year she would not wish on her worst enemy. Coming back from that place of peace and rest and feeling…done had been the very definition of hell. To have things looking like hell and a mountain of problems and responsibilities on top of that was just far too much. Buffy wondered if anyone remembered how young she still was, how few people her age had anywhere near the burdens she carried on a daily basis.
Maybe that’s why she was drawn to Spike when she was pulled back here. He always seemed to get her. With him, she hadn’t needed to pretend, to put on a show of being okay. The only time she relaxed at all during those horrible months was in his company. That’s what made how it all ended so tragic. She and Spike had connected and then it all just blew up and they became brutal with one another. Forgiving him had been easy, really, since she’d been on the same ride as him and knew the full story of their messed up affair.
Maybe if Giles had stayed until she had found her feet again things would have been different, even between her and Spike. They had started to build a real friendship that might have led to something healthy, even with him being soul-free.
Giles knew how fragile she was before he left for England and the peace and freedom denied to her. He knew the problems with her friends, with Dawn and with being an instant mom to a teenager. What girl her age had to think about mortgages and parent-teacher conferences? How many her age had to deal with Child Protective Service visits or the dating choices of a kid under her care?
He also knew that her slaying had forced her to drop out of college and that the job skills left to her didn’t lead to a great career buffet.
All of that on top of daily world save-age and at least one annual apocalypse seemed a bit much to ask anyone to handle well.
He’d been there when her mom died, saw how it gutted her. Buffy hadn’t even had time to grieve since they were hip deep in fighting Glory for Dawn’s life and the continuance of the world. He’d seen her crawl so far into herself that she could have been lost forever when Glory took Dawn. Then came blessed release! A life finished and duties accomplished, or so it should have been. She had earned that, and it had been ripped from her.
Maybe if she hadn’t died she could have started to deal with all the problems and grief. Maybe if she didn’t know with certainty that there was a better place and she had been there, it would have been easier. Maybe if her father figure had suggested she get some help in coping she would have done a better job of it too. He was the adult, after all, with all that adult wisdom they love to tell you comes with the gray hair.
No, all he had said was that she had to be strong and that he didn’t want to leave. He left anyway. Gave her a fine speech about how she would turn to him whenever something came up and that he’d step in because he didn’t like to see her suffer. “Yeah, I think the suffering he was avoiding was his own,” she scowled.
Of course she would have turned to him! Wasn’t part of his job as Watcher and stand-in daddy to be there to teach her how to deal? Not shove her out of the nest and watch her go splat.
Maybe if she wasn’t already clinically depressed…oh, yeah, Buffy had read plenty of magazine articles on the subject to see herself in them…no, he simply told her to be strong and then walked out.
She felt herself shut down when he left. It was a physical experience as that last brick went up around her heart. She couldn’t blame her mom for leaving; it wasn’t like she had the aneurism just to get away from Buffy after all.
Hank was another matter. He not only disappeared but made sure Buffy felt at least partially responsible, since he never cleared the air from the things said at their last meeting. No calls or cards since he moved on either.
Angel? Well, Angel just moved on too, didn’t he? Why had he not even tried to find a way for them to be together? His soul was bound by magic; couldn’t he have tried to find a way for magic to keep the soul from ever disappearing again? Spike GOT his soul for her and to make sure he would never hurt her again. Angelus would never have done that. Spike came back too, even though he had to suspect she might want to greet him with a sharp piece of wood.
Riley left as well; they all did. “Suck it up, Buffy. You’re so strong, Buffy. You’ll be fine, Buffy. You need to stand on your own feet and make the tough calls, Buffy.” Then they walked away. She hadn’t expected it of Giles though.
That was kind of funny, really. She could almost see a giant “V” shape with Giles on one side and Spike on the other. See Giles being there for her, understanding her and taking her side but less and less until the bottom when he abandoned her at last. Around the same time Spike had gone from the bottom, trying to kill her and being a pain in her neck to standing at her side when no one else wanted to. From fighting her to fighting for her. From making her life harder to trying at least to making it easier. He didn’t leave; she couldn’t get rid of him even when she tried! He’d just keep coming back even now.
“I don’t know what I would have done if Wood had killed him tonight,” she shuddered at the thought.
“Hope he came home, not that I’d blame him if he didn’t.”
Buffy suddenly needed to see Spike for herself, make sure he wasn’t too badly injured and wasn’t too angry about being set up.
The house was quiet and she doubted if anyone would get in her way if she decided to go and check for herself. Wiping her eyes, she set out for the basement to check on her vampire for herself.
It looked like at least one other person was still awake. Dawn sat with a cup of tea and a concerned look on her face. Something major had happened tonight and, as usual, she was out of the loop.
“He’s back,” Dawn couldn’t eliminate the worry frowns even if her tone was casual. “I’m not sure what happened. He looks pretty banged up and growly.”
Buffy didn’t give any information about the assassination attempt and Giles’ latest betrayal. They all said she was in charge and yet every one of them doubted her decisions! She’d rather not hear Dawn defend this latest action or Giles, for that matter. She didn’t want to open up the can of worms that was Spike with Dawnie at all, in fact, not now. “Is he downstairs?”
“You know Spike; he always comes back.” Dawn smiled and it looked sincere. Buffy felt sad, remembering how once upon a time Dawn had been Spike’s only champion, how close the two of them had been. Thick as thieves--most likely literally, given it was the two of them.
Dawn was right. Even facing hostility and distrust, Spike always came back. Buffy knew him well enough now to know that it wasn’t like she used to believe. He had feelings and they were hurt often. No matter how they treated him, he was still there. Knowing Dawn no longer was in his corner and wondering at the greeting he’d get from Buffy hadn’t kept him away either.
Spike was also a brick, the kind a person could build on. Strong and reliable and not going anywhere. No huff and puff blowing knock down something built with brick, Buffy remembered her fairy tales that well! Suddenly, one of the many weights pushing her down felt lighter.
As always with them, the timing was still wrong, but once the First was taken down they’d have time to take a look at things and see what his kind of brick could build to make her weird life better; his too. In an odd way, they made sense being together.
But for now she had a vamp to patch up and an apocalypse to stop. Somehow she knew she could do both and come out a winner. And as so often in the past, Spike would be right there at her side.
“He’s probably awake. Creature of the night, remember, even if we all keep him awake in the daytime.” Dawn tried for a supportive grin.
“I just want to check on him. Rough night.” Buffy hoped that Dawn would just assume they had been taking on an ubervamp or something big and smelly and leave it at that.
“Figured.” Dawn turned her head and closed her eyes. She knew Buffy was keeping the real story from her. She’d heard just enough from the girls to know that something was up. Buffy and Giles were both acting like they wanted to scream at each other too.
She touched the band-aid on her forehead and wished they would start to remember she wasn’t some stupid kid who couldn’t handle the truth. That’s what she missed most of all about Spike. He used to treat her like an adult. Now he mostly avoided her.
“Buffy? Tell Spike I don’t carry matches.” Dawn got up from the table and started towards the doorway. “He’ll know what that means.”
The basement was dark, but Buffy had nearly worn the stairs down with all the trips up and down since Spike moved in with them. She almost turned around to leave Spike to his rest when she heard the snick of Spike’s lighter and saw the beacon flame as he lit up a cigarette. He didn’t smoke that much since he got his soul, but it had been a hard night so she wouldn’t rag on him about it.
“’M up, pet.” She heard the rustle of his bedding and blinked as he turned on the small light next to the cot.
“I wanted to see if you were okay. I didn’t bring down the first aid kit,” Buffy sounded annoyed with herself for having forgotten it.
“Nearly healed already, no worries.” Spike gave her a shy grin. “Takes more than one pissed off teacher to take me out.”
“Well that pissed off teacher isn’t gonna try anything like that again. You have my promise.” Buffy’s tone brooked no question that she meant every word. “He had no right to do what he did.”
Spike shrugged, “Some might say he had every right. Matter of opinion.”
“We’re in a war. He knows you fight at my side. Doing what he did wouldn’t bring his mother back. He shouldn’t have…well, he just shouldn’t have.”
“’S over Buffy. We live to fight another day and now I know to watch my back.”
“You shouldn’t have to do that, not with people on our own side.”
Spike was touched at the “our” she had used. At least he knew that Buffy was confident he was, always would be, on her side.
“Admit Wood could’ve picked a better time. Think I made that point though, so we cleared that right up.” Spike looked up at her and squirmed a bit. “He stop bleedin’ okay?”
“Yeah, he’ll be fine. He got lucky.” Buffy sat next to Spike on the cot. “You could easily have killed him.”
“Told you, gave him a pass.” Spike moved over to give Buffy a bit of space. It was still awkward between them. He knew she cared, her every action had screamed it, but they were still as nervous as two cats in a room full of rocking chairs around each other in their quiet moments.
“Well, he knows I’ve got your back. If he sticks around, I don’t think he’ll try anything else.”
Spike took a long pull on the cigarette and dug deep into his soul for the kind of selflessness Buffy needed from him at this point in time. “He’s a pretty decent fighter; be a big help when the big battle comes. Be best if he stayed and helped.”
Buffy looked at him and was astonished once again at how much he had changed over the years. “I suppose so. If he behaves himself, that is. If I have to worry about him going after you again, I’ll rethink that, though. You’re my best warrior.”
Spike smiled. “I overheard you tell him that back at his little shed of horrors. ‘Preciate the vote of confidence. Won’t disappoint.”
“I won’t ask you to tell me what went down. I kinda figured it out for myself with all the crosses on everywhere and how you both looked.”
“He had the music and we danced,” Spike shrugged. “Played that ditty and invited the demon to the party. Once I finally broke the trigger and got control again, I partnered up and we both did the steps,” he grinned. “Prefer dancing with you, always did.”
“Speaking of which,” Spike cleared his throat. If he were honest with himself he’d have to admit that he really, really hated having to make the suggestion he was going to make, but he had to put Buffy first this go-round. Being selfish had ruined everything the last time and he had vowed never to do that again, not with this girl. “Need every good fighter you can get for this one, pet. I’m no fan of Wood or Rupes at this point, but you do need them both and I think you know it.”
“I can’t believe Giles would go behind my back like that! He only met Robin today and then they go off and suddenly they’re all Churchill and Eisenhower planning D-Day!”
Spike smiled and Buffy felt a bit melty at the sight. “American education is lacking, luv. Was Morgan and Montgomery representin’ Mother England and they called it Operation Overlord. Though I do see a bit of resemblance between the Watcher and Winston.”
“I guess you’d know first-hand since you’re so old,” Buffy quipped. It was nice to tease each other. She had missed the ease she once felt in Spike’s company.
“Tried to avoid most of Europe those years,” Spike gave a snort, “Too much competition for carnage.”
They both laughed and Spike delighted that Buffy could laugh at those kinds of jokes, knowing he meant nothing evil by them. Things were changing and if they both lived long enough, maybe they could come out of this in a good place for a change.
“I can’t trust Giles, Spike; you can’t either.”
“I don’t. Know he’d love to see me blow in the wind. He’s never pretended to want me around.”
Buffy nodded. “Even when you guys were fighting side by side it showed.”
“Well, gotta remember he knew I was sniffing around his daughter. That’s enough to put any man’s back up.”
“Yeah, well, as a father, he’s right up there with Hank,” Buffy sighed. “After this stunt, he’s lost the right to even comment on my personal life.”
Spike tilted his head. If he was reading things right, it sounded like Buffy was clearly choosing HIM over Giles! It boggled the mind and made his heart sing.
“He should have trusted my judgment more.” Buffy looked at Spike. “You two fought side by side even when I was dead, didn’t you? He should have trusted you after that, at least a bit.”
“Man doesn’t want to see you hurt again,‘s all.”
“No, it’s not that. He used to worry about me, care about me. Now I’m just the Slayer and one he doesn’t trust to lead, to decide.”
She leaned against the startled vampire and put her head on his shoulder. “Guess I’m doomed to have daddy issues, huh?”
Buffy sniffled a bit, “Guess I’m not exactly the dream daughter.”
“Hey, now! None of that. Those wankers got gold; not your fault if they can’t see it.” Spike slipped an arm around her and just held her as she fought off tears. Part of him was proud that she had turned to him and shared anything so important to her. “’Sides, Rupert loves you. If it doesn’t show, it’s his fault. Got that lip all re-stiffened over in Merry ‘Ole and needs to pull his head out of his arse, but he does love you. Who wouldn’t?”
“Giles loves his duty. I disappointed him somewhere, sometime,” Buffy sniffed. “He’s cold now. It’s like a different man from before I died. Did you know they wondered if he was the First for a while because he was so cold?”
“The girls, Xander, Andrew…. They physically tackled him to make sure he was solid.”
Spike laughed, “Bet he hated that! Not one for physical expressions of anything is our family Watcher. I’d say he’s preoccupied though, no colder than the average tweeded up types the Council turns out.”
“No, really, Spike…ever since I came back from the dead, he’s been different.”