Giles looked at the clock and wondered who was banging on his door at such an early hour. No one from the Council would drop by, even if he still had personal friends there. He had been back for quite a while and still had not begun to actually build a life here in London. Too many years in Southern California had changed him, or rather too much involvement in the lives of those young people he had left behind had done so.
“I’m coming,” Giles muttered as he thrust his arms into the dressing robe and fumbled for his glasses. “This had best be important.”
His shock at seeing Spike on the other side of his door was only exceeded by his curiosity at seeing the vampire at all. From what he had been told by the children, Spike had left Sunnydale and washed his hands of them all.
“Gonna give me an invite, old man, or are we going to play this out for all your neighbors to enjoy?” Spike spoke softly but with an edge to his voice. Already two neighbors had poked their heads out to see what on earth was going on at this hour.
“I don’t see why I should give you free run of my home, Spike. In point of fact, I don’t see why I should give you the time of day.”
“Maybe because you need a few home truths told. Maybe because I can do something to help your Slayer or maybe just because you still have at least a tiny bit of the curiosity that drew you to the Council.”
Giles sighed at the inevitability of having this meeting. Spike was nothing if not tenacious; there would be no getting rid of the berk until he’d had his say. “Not here. Not in my home. I’ll meet you at a pub that’s become an unofficial after-hours club just down the street. Bloody pubs close at 11, but this one merely closes the doors. The Hanged Man. Show them some cash and they’ll open readily enough.” Giles looked at Spike’s rugged, disheveled appearance. “Their standards aren’t very high.”
“Wouldn’t think so, given you seem to give ‘em your custom,” Spike snarked back. “Twenty minutes, Watcher.”
Giles merely shut the door in his face, but Spike knew he’d be there.
Spike had already started on his second Newcastle Brown when the irritated Watcher slid into the bench opposite. The server responded quickly to Spike’s raised hand motioning for another ale for his newly arrived companion. The dark liquid sloshed a bit on the table, adding another to the quilt of stains on the once white tablecloth.
Giles sipped at his drink and waited for Spike to break the silence. It didn’t take long. “Fine job you made of it, leavin’ the girl right when she was fallin’ apart.”
“I did not get out of my warm bed, dress and come to this hole in the wall to be berated by a vampire for my decisions.” Giles started to get up from the table, but Spike put out a restraining hand.
“Fine.” Spike glared at the Watcher and without saying another word easily conveyed his opinion. “Point is, Buffy’s in a fix. Her friends are all addin’ to her burden with their problems, not really helpin’ her one bit. She and the Bit are livin’ hand to mouth on what little she makes at that grease pit and the Slayer’s too tired to care much about the nasties all linin’ up to get a piece of her.”
“I did what I had to do for Buffy’s sake,” Giles began defensively.
“You did what you wanted to for you, you old git!” Spike glared daggers at the man. “Lost her to death and couldn’t stand to see it happen again, so you high-tailed it a continent away. Thing is, you’re more than her Watcher, you’re the closest thing to a da she’s got. Just like the wanker who’s got the biological claim, you walked out on her. Another man leavin’ her high and dry, just what she needed, fresh out of the grave and all.”
“Buffy doesn’t need me, hasn’t for a long while.” Giles sipped at his ale.
Spike snorted in derision. “Sure she does. More now than ever if you ask me. She even turned to me and that should tell you how desperate she is for someone to take on some of the burden.”
Giles looked up in anger and began to reach across only to be stopped by a returned server asking if they needed anything.
“Calm down, Watcher. She had sense enough to end it.” Spike looked ancient for a moment. “Just tells you how desperate she is, how in need.” He drank the rest of his brew in one long gulp before continuing. “I finally got the message: wasn’t helpin’, was hurtin’. So I left. Just because I left doesn’t mean I don’t care. Still love the bint.”
Giles laughed. “Your obsessions tend to be lengthy.”
“Not worthy of her; know that. Did somethin’ about it too, but that only led me to see things a bit clearer. Now I know I can’t go back.” Spike whispered the last part with such sorrow in his voice that Giles was uneasy. “Still want to help.”
“Aside from the wise decision to leave her alone, I don’t see how you could offer anything of value,” Giles chided.
“More than you,” Spike shot back. “Did some diggin’ before I left Sunnyhell. Retrieved some of the shiny baubles in that tomb where I got the ring a few years ago. Played Lara Croft and liberated a nice bundle. Found a friendly fence and got a fair price. Course, flashin’ a bit of fang didn’t hurt.”
“I gave Buffy a sizeable check before I left,” Giles sputtered.
“And that was spent in minutes. Girl’s got all her mum’s debts, upkeep on little sis and the feeding and caring of the witch all to be met by a lousy minimum wage job that sucks the soul out of her and all her friends can say is ‘Can I get some fries with that?’ while she dies a little each day.” Spike motioned for another round. “I offered to help. You know, with the dosh. She turned me down. Needs it though.”
“What do you expect me to do?”
“I expect you to get the money to her in such a way that she’ll accept it. Hell, make her think it’s from the Council of Wankers, or from you, I don’t rightly care. Tell her it’s from a friend.”
“She’d probably think it was from Angel in that case.” Giles enjoyed the flash of pain he saw cross the vampire’s face at the mention of the souled vampire.
“Fine,” Spike growled out, “If that’s what it takes for her to accept it and not have to be worrying. Old bastard will likely be happy to accept credit.”
Giles looked closely at Spike then. For him to be willing to let Angel get credit for rescuing Buffy from financial disaster must signify something. Could it be that Spike actually did have real feelings for Buffy? “So a check is going to fix her problems, is that it?”
“NO, that’s probably the least of it,” Spike looked at the Watcher as if he’d taken leave of his senses. “Needs you. Needs her friends whole and helpful. That’s what gave her the edge, helped make her the best. She needs her support system back. She’s the best Slayer I’ve ever seen, but part of it is because she has people she loves, people who love her, around her. That’s what makes her fight to survive. Take that away and she’s just markin’ time till the death wish kicks in and some ugly has their lucky day.”
Spike pushed an envelope towards Giles and rose to leave. “Just get this to her. Tell her it’s from Angel, I don’t care. If it makes her feel loved, wanna live, do it. If you care for the girl then give some thought to goin’ back and bein’ the da she needs.” Spike leveled a serious look at Giles and warned, “If you don’t, you’ll be makin’ the trip to attend her funeral. The girl’s in need. Man up, Giles, you’re the one who crossed the line and made her family. If the May festival gets to be too much and you lot need extra muscle, send word through a demon named Clem back in SunnyD. He’ll know how to reach me. I’ll stay in touch. Otherwise, I’ll stay clear.”
Spike had been gone for quite a while before Giles opened the envelope and stared at all the zeros on the check. With that amount, Buffy would never need to work except for her Slaying. Hell, she might be able to buy the Council with this check!
Xander had groveled to no avail. Anya was having none of his apologies. Fortunately, his luck was better with Willow and Buffy.
Life was beginning to go back to normal on the surface. Buffy was still trying to rid the town of the terror of the nerd trio and their increasingly dangerous antics and Willow and Tara were close to being a couple again.
“I don’t know how stuff got so mixed up. I blew it.” Xander sat on the bench next to Buffy. “I miss Anya so much. I guess I know that I’m a better person with her in my life. Things got so complicated, then I left and ever since I’ve had this painful hole inside and I’m the idiot that dug it out.” He looked at Buffy and saw a parallel pain in her eyes. Time for grovel part two.
Xander had done a bit of growing up. Throwing away a happy future had a way of sobering a person. As much as the surface seemed to be peaceful, there were still apologies owed to more than Anya and so Xander was determined to give them.
“I thought a lot about mistakes I made.” Buffy had never seen Xander so somber. “I screwed up a lot…and not just the big disaster at the wedding.”
“That was pretty spectacular as far as screw-ups go,” Buffy smiled and tried to lighten the mood. Somehow serious Xander was scary.
He chuckled but wasn’t put off from his purpose. “Yeah, well, I rarely do things in halves. Buffy, I haven’t been a good friend in a long time and I am sorry.”
“What are you talking about? You’re the bestest of best friends,” Buffy pulled him into a hug and felt herself tear up. “You’re like my brother.”
“Exactly. I’m like your brother, only I was kinda your pervy brother for a while deep down, and I don’t think I even know why anymore.” Buffy looked confused. “I think I was kinda in love with the idea of being in love with you, subconsciously… I’ve got one of those, you know,” he grinned. “I mean, I really thought that I did love you like a brother and I knew you felt that way about me and that was cool. Still, somewhere inside where I didn’t even really see it, I wanted to be the one, the human guy that was your Mr. Right. I think I was really more in love with the dream than the real deal, ‘cause I truly loved Anya at the same time. God, this sounds bad.”
Buffy blinked and moved slightly apart from him on the bench where they were sitting.
“Don’t be nervous, I’m over it. Not over loving you, just the pervy part. I probably have been for a long time but didn’t admit it to myself. I’ll always love you, but it is like a brother kinda thing…I finally get that and even want that.”
“I wish you could have been my Mr. Right, Xan,” Buffy admitted. “It would be so simple. You’re a good guy. You’re good-looking and funny and sweet.” She fought the urge to cry. “I don’t know what to say. You can’t help who you love…or don’t.”
“I know.” Xander looked in the direction of the Magic Box and Buffy knew his heart was there with Anya. “I also want to apologize for all that stuff I said when I found out about you and Spike.”
“Not a problem,” Buffy started to get up. She did not want to talk about Spike with anyone, especially Xander.
“Yeah, it is a problem. I stuck my nose in and it wasn’t my business.” Buffy shook her head but Xander took her hands and pulled her back to sit on the bench again. “I knew Spike loved you; we all did. It was obvious after you… after you…”
“Died,” Buffy finished for him. “You can say it.”
Xander shrugged and still looked uncomfortable with putting that horrible experience into words. “Anyway, we knew. He’d even tried to be a halfway decent guy. He must have been doing something right or you wouldn’t have been interested. Besides, it wasn’t up to me or anyone else who you wanted to be with. I get that now.”
“I’m sorry. I should have told you, all of you. It must have been a shock walking in on us that way,” Buffy whispered. Xander noted that he had been right in thinking Buffy was having some regret-induced pain too. She had panicked when he had confronted her in Spike’s crypt and said some harsh things to the guy she had just slept with. Fine friend he had turned out to be!
“Maybe you would have told me if I hadn’t given you so many reasons to think I’d be an ass about it. Then I went and proved what an ass I could be,” he looked ashamed. “Willow was deep in her magic trouble and had just lost Tara, so I get why you didn’t tell her.”
“I told Tara,” Buffy blurted out.
Xander looked shocked, then a bit hurt and finally resigned. “Yeah, well, Tara isn’t judgmental like some of your friends. Makes sense.”
“She was great. I leaned on her a lot,” Buffy admitted. “I’m glad she and Willow are working it out.”
“Me too, but don’t change the subject,” Xander smiled knowingly. “Look, if you care for the guy, I just want you to know I’ll not butt in. I just want my sister happy.”
Buffy didn’t even realize her tears had spilled until she felt Xander brush one away. “Too late, I’m afraid. Spike’s never come back. I think I finally pushed him too far.”
Xander flinched. It was obvious from Buffy’s trembling lips that Spike had won more than Buffy’s body, even if he didn’t know it.
“He’ll be back. Spike always comes back.”
“Not this time.”
“What about us? Are we good?” Xander looked eager and a bit nervous.
“Yeah, we’re good,” Buffy threw her arms around him and sniffed back a tear.
Giles had booked his airfare allowing for a short layover in Los Angeles. He had no desire to stay longer than necessary in Angel’s company. No soul could ever trump the memory of dear dead Jenny. The cashier’s check Spike had given to him for Buffy was drawn on a bank in LA and Angel had agreed to go to Sunnydale with Giles and give the check to Buffy explaining that it came from a “secret donor”. They both figured that Buffy would assume the donor was Angel himself. Giles thought the souled vampire had sounded far too eager to play into the scheme.
“Oh, I am sorry,” the disheveled Lydia offered as she bumped into Giles, knocking a few books from the small stack he was planning to take back to Sunnydale with him. “Rupert! I had heard you were paying us a visit. How lovely to see you again.”
“Nice to see you as well, Lydia. I’m leaving at the end of the week actually.”
“And you didn’t plan to ring me up and say hello at least before going?” she looked hurt. “I should be insulted but instead find myself merely a bit wistful. I understand you’ve been home for quite some time. I would have enjoyed spending a bit of time with you.” She flushed brightly. “I would have loved to hear some stories about your many adventures dealing firsthand with William the Bloody, especially now that he’s seemingly done the unimaginable.”
Giles wondered how the Council had found out about the generous check. “Now how on earth did you find out about that?”
“Well, no one knows for certain, of course, but the rumors fairly flew out of our African office. Not everyday the demon and human world gossip about the same rumor.”
Giles looked baffled. “Just what rumor would that be, Lydia?”
The attractive Watcher lightly patted his arm and giggled like a schoolgirl. “No need to be coy, Rupert. I imagine you had something to do with guiding him towards it. After all, you did work side by side for some time ever since that chip was implanted. Still, it’s unheard of for a demon to actually CHOOSE…well…I’m all agog! I always felt he was special in some way. You remember I did my thesis on him.”
“I assure you that I haven’t a clue about what you are talking about!” Giles looked completely flummoxed. “Just what is it that Spike is rumored to have done?”
“Why, sought the return of his soul, of course.”
The books in Giles’ arms dropped at the same time as his jaw.
Next chapter here
Originally posted at http://seasonal-spuffy.livejournal.com/370424.html