Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.

A/N Occasional bits of dialogue from the series will be used from a variety of episodes written by Joss Whedon, Rebecca Rand Kirshner, Doug Petrie, David Fury, Drew Goddard, Marti Noxon et al.

Chapter 1

The sound of Giles' footsteps stilled as Buffy stood, her back to her closed bedroom door. She hadn't been this numb in close to a year! The hard journey from depression to the hopes and plans of just this past summer seemed a thing of memory only. She'd beaten the devil within only to have Giles, of all people, return dragging the depression demon with him and setting up camp in her home, her citadel. She was proud of how well she had been coping with all the extra mouths and the relentless attacks from a foe she couldn't simply stake or behead. She had even adjusted to the new cool-to-the-point-of-cold, Giles, who made a revolving door out of her front door lately. Giles the betrayer-that was new…or was it?

There, in the dark, Buffy could almost imagine the house, HER house, empty and at peace. All the Potentials slept at last and the other uninvited boarders and houseguests whispered like ghosts, if they spoke at all. No doubt they did, given how this night had ended.

She could still see the disapproving and shocked gazes from Giles and the teenage girls he had her sheltering. Buffy knew well that Giles would expect her to come around in time. After all, she had forgiven him for suggesting they kill Dawn when facing the seemingly unstoppable force that had been Glory; even admitting tonight that his horrible suggestion had merit in hindsight.

This time he had gone from suggestions to covert actions, taking the decision upon himself and expecting her to merely fall in line. He'd made it clear he thought her irresponsible, stupid even. He hadn't bothered to consider her reasons for keeping Spike close, letting him help. Giles had totally dismissed her judgment regarding Spike altogether.

The looks of disappointment from her two best friends no longer hurt. Will and Xan no longer voiced their doubts and fears. At least now they withheld their words of warning, reminders of ancient mistakes. Now they only gave side glances and the odd sigh. Buffy was long used to this; it barely registered. They meant well, she reminded herself, and they did have some reason for the worry, she generously supposed. At least they had stopped trying to control her, to force the issues; no more taking matters into their own hands.

She eased her weary body onto the mattress and let out a deep sigh. Here in her only remaining fortress of solitude, she thought back on the man who she had once thought of as a surrogate father.

i Buffy,I understand your anger. Please believe me, we did what we…," /i

Oh, yeah, she just bet he understood, as in not. Giles didn't understand many things about her, even after all these years. Buffy didn't betray those who had been her friends. She didn't take the word of people she'd only met that day against those who had proven their loyalty. She didn't sacrifice people she lov…. Oh, yeah, that was the biggest not-understanding right there. No one understood the confusing but real dynamics between this particular vampire and her. Not even she did, really. They had all seemed to get Angel, but never Spike.

After she let Giles know his plot failed and Spike was still undusty, he had stiffened and acted as if she had done something sneaky and wrong, not him.

iWell, that doesn't change anything. What I told you is still true. You need to learn…,"/i

Oh, she had learned. Betcha by golly wow, she'd learned. She was the leader, she was the Chosen, but she couldn't be trusted to make the important calls. She was strong and smart enough to be left to fend for herself when only a few months out of her grave and in deep depression, but not smart or strong enough to know who her allies were! Able to handle the Hellmouth and world save-age all alone, but she still needed basic lessons!

Once upon a time, she would have cried. Giles was closer to her heart than many people, like the father she'd longed to have for so long. His good opinion had always been important to her and she had relied on his advice and knowledge more than any other single person, in some ways more than her mom.

In the beginning, she had distrusted Giles. He was just another representative of the same group who had turned her life upside down and rearranged all her plans.

She could see him now, all tweeded up and awkward,i "A Slayer slays, a Watcher..,"


"Yes! No! He trains her, he, he, prepares her."

"Prepares me for what? For getting kicked out of school? For losing all my friends? For having to spend all my time fighting for my life and never getting to tell anyone because I might endanger them? Go ahead, prepare me."/i

It would have hurt less if they had left it at that: her slaying, him watching. Before the year was out, he had changed. She remembered how he had tried to take her place in the battle with The Master. How she had to knock him out lest he go to die in her place.

i"I'm not going to send you out there to die. I've waded around in these old books for so long I've forgotten what the real world is like. It's time I found out."

"You're still not going up against the Master."

"I've made up my mind."

"So have I."

"I made up mine first! I'm older and wiser than you, and just do what you're told for once!"/i

That had been a turning point, the moment she let him fully into her heart. He wasn't just going to be sending her out to fight the good fight; this one man was going to be at her side. He cared!

She would never have believed that things could change so drastically between them. Not after all the shared grief, shared battles, built up trust.

It was his support after Angel had lost his soul that had marked him as a beloved father figure though. While everyone else, including Buffy herself, had blamed all the carnage Angelus had created on her, Giles had stood by her and seemed to understand.

She remembered the shame she had felt at letting her first love unleash the monster that was Angelus. People died. Her friends couldn't understand why she had let her personal desires put them all in jeopardy. Giles alone had stood by her unquestioningly. He had even taken her side when her anger had lashed out at poor Jenny Calendar, even though Giles had already begun to fall in love with that lady himself!

She had expected a lecture from Giles, disappointment and recriminations. Instead he had calmly shown her more support that her hurting heart could have ever wanted, and many would say more than she deserved.

She had sobbed that it was all her fault, all that death and danger.

i"No I don't believe it is. Do you want me to wag my finger at you and tell you that you acted rashly? You did and I can. I know that you loved him and he has proven more than once that he loved you."/i

She had steeled herself for the lecture, like the one he had given her tonight about Spike while betraying him-and her too, for that matter. Back then he had come through, been her solid brick.

i"You couldn't have known what would happen. The coming months are going to be hard, I suspect on all of us. But if it's guilt you're looking for, Buffy, I'm not your man. All you will get from me is my support and my respect."/I

If he had half that attitude now she wouldn't have shut him out as she had tonight. Back then she hadn't done all that much to earn his respect, but over the years she sure had! Over and over, apocalypse after apocalypse, and even dying twice should have finally settled that matter.

As for the support…well, that turned out to be as changeable as weather. When Giles needed to dump responsibility on her, to have her jump into danger, then he was all supporto-boy. When she made choices he didn't agree with…well, that was another kettle of kittens altogether!

When did it change? When did her brick of a dad turn into just another brick in the wall around her heart?

Giles looked somber and distracted as he nearly collided with the vampire at the base of the staircase. Spike took some delight in the smell of fear off the old man when he saw who he had nearly run into. Spike merely stalked past him and headed through to the kitchen.

Giles hadn't said a word and Spike guessed that he had already been informed that the little plot with the teacher had failed. Too bad, that! He'd have enjoyed seeing real terror on the old git's face, wondering if Principal Earrings were bleeding to death somewhere or if Spike's trigger was going to go off just in time to wreak a bit of vengeance.

He'd glared at the rest of the crew gathered in the kitchen until all but Willow and Xander had suddenly decided it was well past bedtime. Without a word to either Scooby, he'd marched to the fridge and grabbed a couple of bags of blood to heat up. Just let them say something! He had as much right to be there as they did. Buffy wanted him there.

In truth he was a bit surprised that the boy hadn't said something nasty. He'd given him a raised eyebrow and puzzled look, then returned to his conversation with Will. Guess not everyone was part of the "Let's Stake Spike Club". Spike would have expected Xander to have been at least Vice-President.

By the time the microwave dinged and his dinner was ready, most of the raging fury had abated. It had been a long night already and he had some healing to do to be fit for whatever the First threw their way. Frankly, he was tired.

The soul made it harder to ignore what others were feeling. Not just Wood; that he got, even without the soul. What the righteous principal didn't get was the Slayer/Vampire dynamic. Those fights, those kills, weren't the regular kind. Those were battles between equals fighting on different sides of the neverending war between good and evil. Even after the soul, he'd never felt the same remorse over those two deaths as he had the casual kill for food or sport. Still, losing a mum when he was just a tyke would naturally make for a different viewpoint on that. That's why Spike had given him that pass, he did understand.

He also made sure Wood understood him. He wasn't some bleedin' martyr just standin' back lettin' him shove a cross in his heart as payback for a long ago sin. Spike took enough blood to emphasize that point to everyone's satisfaction. Wood would either live with the facts, fight at their side, or he'd be taken out. Spike wasn't about to let the grudge held by the son of a Slayer put the current Slayer's war in jeopardy. Buffy was going to win this one, no matter what it cost him, and if he had to take out Wood along the way, he'd deal with the conscience pangs.

He knew the baby would-be Slayers feared him. Couldn't help but smell it or see it in the way most of them avoided him whenever possible. Even the mouthy one who had glommed onto the still fragile Willow didn't want to take him on by herself.

Harris and Red had their reasons to give him a wide berth. They had history. He supposed he should let them know that the trigger was definitely gone. It wouldn't make him their new best friend but it might make things a little easier for all of them in the cramped house.

Oh, yeah, he knew what they were thinking and feeling! None of it mattered, not really. Only thing he cared about was what Buffy was thinking and feeling and tonight he could see she had panicked thinking she might be too late. He would have wondered who she was most worried about, him or Wood, if he hadn't heard what she'd said to the principal.

That was his girl alright! The mission was the main thing and she understood completely that Spike was at her side and, if he had to, ready to dust to make sure she won.

Spike nearly laughed as he washed out the cup and put it back in its place. His mum would have been proud of his good manners. Actually he'd only begun to care about such things when he saw how many of the houseguests did little to ease Buffy's many burdens and he'd be damned if he'd lay even an extra cup washing more of work on her shoulders. Okay, he was damned anyway, but the thought was real all the same.

He headed for the basement, not expecting to get much of a kip but knowwing he needed to try. Tomorrow was going to be another day of waiting and training and his sleep schedule was being forced to mesh with a house filled with humans. Wouldn't do to be less than fit for the battle to come. Buffy deserved his best; God knew she'd had his worst.

By the time he reached the cot at the bottom of the stairs, he'd already lost his lightened heart over the cup and the burning rage at the betrayal and near assassination. He'd been avoiding thinking about his mum and all that had been revealed this night. Picturing her gentle smile as he washed up had brought it all back.

It seemed that even when he tried his very best to do the right things for the right reasons, it always blew up in his face. He'd sired his mum to make her feel well again, to be happy again and not dying a slow and painful death. That worked well!

He'd tried to help Buffy when she'd been brought back from the grave. Another failure remarkable in its size and fallout! Of all his many and varied sins, both as a man and a demon, those were the worst. He'd killed his mother twice, possibly damned her sweet soul in the process and he'd nearly raped the only woman he ever truly loved. There weren't fires hot enough in hell to pay for those two sins alone.

He'd loved his mother with everything he had been. She had been the only person to ever fully accept him and love him without seeing the gawky, socially inept man he'd grown into. They had been alone against the world for years before he met Dru that fateful night.

After the things his beloved mother had said after he turned her, he had lost his entire sense of security, his self worth, the whole view of his life till then had been turned on its head.

"Suppose I should thank Wood for that, at least." Spike shook his head at the irony. He'd taken Wood's mother from him and now these many years later Wood had, in a sense, given back to Spike his lost mother. "Maybe I'll give him at least one other free pass for that. Not that I'll tell him, 'm not stupid after all."

From the look of things, Buffy hadn't been happy with Giles over the attempt made on his life tonight. "Let him know it too," he thought in amazement. He never would have imagined Buffy siding with him over Giles! Man was like her own parent, only one she had left.

Spike frowned. Buffy didn't need to lose any more people who mattered to her, and certainly not on his account. He might want to see the back of Rupert Giles, but Buffy loved him, needed him. Spike saw that last year when Giles had swanned out of her life, leaving Buffy with a right mess to deal with. That was when she really started to fall apart.

There was a time when driving a wedge between Buffy and her Watcher was one of his favorite evil plots! To one-up the old man and have Buffy choose him was the stuff of dreams. He'd taken great satisfaction playing all of them off one another when he was still working on being the Big Bad. That was then. This is now.

Buffy believed in him, and Spike needed to be the better man. She needed all her resources, needed her heart as whole as possible, and that meant having Rupes on hand and on board. It wasn't likely they were all going to come out of this alive, and if making sure Buffy was still breathing at the end meant playing Band of Brothers with Giles and Wood, he'd do it without a complaint.

Buffy stared at the ceiling as the memories flooded her mind. It was just before she died when it all changed both times. The first time he won her love and loyalty by wanting to face The Master in her place. The second time he started the change from supporting her and accepting her decisions by suggesting they might need to kill Dawn.

Up until that battle with Glory, she had always seen Giles as her right hand. He was there for the decisions, deferring to her even when she was just a flighty teen. He was there in the fights, even if he ended many of them with a concussion. He was there offering his advice and knowledge, as well as a quiet affection that she could feel. He was her brick! Giles was solid and real and always to be relied upon, the father who stayed. Until….

i"Buffy, the only way is to kill Dawn."

"I don't wanna hear it."

"I understand that"

"NO! NO, you don't understand. We are not talking about this."

"Yes, we bloody well are! If Glory begins the ritual, if we can't stop her…."

"Come on, say it. We're bloody well talking about this. Tell me to kill my sister."

"She's not your sister."/i

True or not, it didn't matter. Dawn was and always would be her sister, more than that. Buffy couldn't put into words all that Dawn represented to her. She was sister, daughter and even, in a way, her best self. Dawn was the future that Buffy likely would never get to have.

i"If the ritual starts, then every living creature in this and every other dimension imaginable will suffer unbearable torment and death, including Dawn."

"Then the last thing she'll see is me protecting her."/i

That was the moment. She might have noted it more had she not died that night. When she came back she was too messed up to think about anything, to sus anything out, but that was the moment. No more trusting Buffy's judgment. No more supporting her decisions. She couldn't remember Giles really ever returning to the way they used to be, not after that night.

Then again, when she came back, he hadn't stuck around long enough for her to tell.

She remembered the singing demon and how Giles sent her off to face him alone. He refused to come along to help rescue Dawn. Even if they had all shown up anyway, he'd sent her into that battle feeling even more lost and adrift. She was lost and adrift already and he knew it!

She had always just chalked it up to Giles trying to make her feel confident again, but looking back on it she wondered. The Giles of the early years would never have put that on her, not in the condition she was in already.

He was distancing himself long before he got on that plane to England. The Watcher headed back to Watcher Land. He'd come back every bit as Watchery as Quentin Travers ever had been; tonight proved that.

Oh, yes, he'd taught her all she needed to know. Taught her that, when push came to shove, there was no one but herself she could count on. In the end, she really was the One, the "one girl in all the world" just like they said in the introduction to slaying. She would slay and he would watch. He would tell her she had to make the "tough choices", leave, then undermine those choices she made. Taught her he would trust the plan of a guy he just met over hers. Taught her that bricks can crumble.