"You know how I was when Giles went back to England. I was lost and angry and scared. God knows I took a lot of that out on you."
"No worries, pet. Still all in one piece, even got an extra piece out of it, so you could say ol' Spike is new and improved after all's said and done."
Buffy looked up at him and saw that, as strange as it seemed, he really did mean it. He didn't regret the soul and hate having it the way Angel often did. "You were pretty okay before," she whispered.
"And now even better," he teased.
"Anyway, I was a mess and it just got worse. I didn't even keep my best friend from trying to destroy the world! It took Xander to do that."
"Humblin' given the source, true." He smirked and she smiled at his gentle jibe. His look became more somber though as he continued. "Don't know why you think it was up to you to keep Red in check though. You had more than enough on your plate and the girl shouldn't have needed a baby sitter. Even if she did, you weren't the one who should have had that job. Seems to me Ripper'd be a sight better for that role. Had his own brush with magicks out of control, did that one. Shoulda seen the writin' on the wall, 'specially after the way she ran roughshod over all of us that summer."
"Willow is my best friend and I couldn't see how bad it was for her. I should have seen and said something."
"Didn't do Tara much good to bring it up! Willow was lookin' for power and excitement. Liked havin' all that control. Nothin' you could say would've made much difference. The Watcher, on the other hand…well, that wanker should have paid more attention to what was brewin' there years ago." Spike looked her in the eye to make certain she was getting his point clearly. "If he saw the warning signs enough to mention it to you, then he knew. Maybe he didn't know just how bad it would get, but he knew she had to be curbed. Could've taken Will with him to work with his Coven friends before she turned into a world threat."
"He couldn't have guessed…," Buffy started to defend Giles from habit.
"He could and did. I was here that summer while you were sittin' on a cloud bein' all at peace and happy. She was in everyone's head and makin' all the plans. Loved bein' in charge." Spike hesitated going too much further because he really didn't know how much Buffy was willing to talk about that terrible time. "When she brought you back," his eyes stared into some far off unseen place. "When she brought you back… well…that kind of power isn't meant for human hands, demon either. He knew it; it scared him. Then he buggered off and left it to you to fix along with everything else!"
"He came back in time though." Buffy smiled as she remembered how happy she had been to see Giles stride into the Magic Box to take on a crazed and lethal Willow. "I knew when I saw him it was all going to be alright. He was back and knew how to stop her, but he wouldn't kill her and everything would be fine." The frown faded. "It didn't work quite the way I expected, but it did give me the backup I needed and a confidence boost."
Spike ducked his head and looked shamefaced. "Sorry I wasn't there, pet. Seemed best to be gone after I'd bollocksed it up. Better either dead or fixed, or so I thought."
Buffy hugged him. "It's okay Spike. I do understand. I didn't at the time. I was pretty mad that you just left. Why do you think I kept dropping by the crypt? Do you really think I developed a great love of the History Channel and Bugles with Country Time? I kept hoping you'd be there and I could beat you senseless, then we could get back to being there for each other in our own dysfunctional way. I think the longer you were gone the madder I got. I know that was true for Dawnie."
They had missed him? After what he had done, tried to do? He had no idea how to even wrap his mind around that bit of news.
"I'm kinda glad you weren't there, if I think about it. You'd have tried to stop Will and one of you would have died. It was better."
She hadn't even mentioned that he wouldn't have gotten his soul. He was speechless.
"If Giles gives you the confidence to know you can win, then you need him now too." Spike wasn't too sure if HE wanted the old goat around, but Buffy seemed to take strength from him, so Rupert wasn't going to be allowed to leave her at this stage, not if Spike had anything to do with it.
"He doesn't, not now." She sighed. "Just the opposite. He makes me feel like my decisions are childish or crazy or something. He second guesses me all the time. He wants me in charge but still goes around like he's the big daddy bringing home the wayward kids for me to take care of."
"Has turned the place into a bit of a hostel." Spike shuddered.
"Yeah, ever since I was brought back all he's done has been to add more stuff he expects me to do, then he criticizes how I do it.
"It felt so great to have him back! We hugged and I caught him up on everything and we laughed and it felt good!" Buffy remembered the way she had felt then. Willow was still a major threat, yet she somehow believed it would all be okay just because Giles had come home. "Then, when it was all over, he took Willow and left again. He didn't even stick around to make sure I was okay with his going."
Buffy had worried that she had only been jealous that Giles had seemed to care more about rehabilitating Willow than helping her cope for a long time. Not that she begrudged Willow getting all the help she obviously needed, but why did Giles go to any length to help Willow and leave her there to do the best she could when her best was far from what it should have been?
"Geez, Hank only left me once; Giles made it an art form." She tried to make her voice light, but Spike knew she was still hurting and that the old fears were right there just under the surface. He really wanted to lay into Rupes like he had Wood, if only for making Buffy feel that like she was less than wonderful!
"I thought he might come back, after, you know, taking Willow over to Witch Repair. He admitted that he should never have left me to begin with. Said the most adult thing to do was ask for help. I did ask for help! He left anyway. He knew the mess I'd made with him gone, Spike. I told him."
Spike decided the best thing was to just let her talk, get it all out like some poison eating at her heart.
"I called, you know. After he left the first time and then over the summer. At first, I called to run some things by him, you know, about the imagined frost monster and all that. He couldn't wait to get off the phone!"
"Maybe he wanted to do a bit of research," Spike offered. "Make use of the library they had over there?"
"No, he just said I should stop looking through Xander's comic books and use the books he had graciously left for us." Buffy frowned. "Okay, in fairness, he didn't put it quite that way, but mostly! He sounded like Travers when he was especially pissed that I was the Slayer, not some perfectly created one like Kendra."
Buffy remembered the first co-slayer in history. She had liked the girl but could see how very different they were. Kendra had been trained almost from birth. She had the handbook. Buffy hadn't even known there WAS a handbook. She also remembered that Giles was really impressed with the girl. He'd been pretty impressed with Faith too at first.
"Sorry, love, thought the other slayer's name was Charity or Hope or some such. Who's this Kendra bint?"
"She's the slayer Dru killed, the one you fought before we switched it up and I dropped an organ on you."
"Oh! Never did get her name. Kinda busy with all the flyin' wood and musical instruments. I wasn't too impressed."
"Really?" Buffy sounded nearly gleeful.
"Run of the mill slayer,'s all. Nothing special 'bout her. The kind they turn out and replace after a short run." Spike drew a deep breath and risked the companionable relationship they were sharing. "Think I only took on two slayers before you?"
Buffy looked up at him with a puzzled frown. "Well, given that you're not dust in the wind, I just thought I was supposed to be the number three special."
"That you were, pet, up till I decided I liked dancin' with you too much to let it end." Spike smiled. "Met a lotta slayers over the past century. Only opponent worth takin' on, really. Most weren't worth the bother. Textbook moves and no imagination, no fire. Wood's mum was like you and I loved that dance, I won't lie, even though I probably should. Could've gone either way. What's the point in fightin' if you know you're gonna win?"
"So you…what…just let them go?"
"Didn't even bother. Scoped 'em out, like I did you. Nothin' to bother myself with, so moved on. Fought a few battles, did a dance or two and moved on to more worthy fights."
Buffy knew she shouldn't feel as proud as she did knowing Spike's wanting to kill her was a compliment in a weird, totally Spike way, but she did.
"No idea 'bout the new one, but doubt she's worth a toss either. Council trains it out of 'em. Treats 'em like a weapon, not a warrior."
That was true enough! Now they were training the Potentials and Buffy realized that was what she and Spike had been trying to do: make them warriors, make sure they could fight and win or at least live to fight another day.
They were both quiet, lost in their own thoughts for a while.
Spike looked back at how far he'd come, how he'd changed. How Buffy had made him not want to have another trophy, but become the man she would want at her side. As good as Nikki Wood had been, he'd never considered that an option. Wasn't that the girl didn't have the looks either. No, Buffy was special in every way. No one held a candle to his slayer!
Buffy thought of all the girls upstairs and how many might not survive. They were kids! Some were even younger than she had been, yet they were not going to have a chance to even come into their powers before they faced pain and death. It wasn't fair and it wasn't fair that it was up to her to make them into an army. And they kept on coming. The first three had been a challenge that had scared her with the weight of responsibility for keeping them alive and making Slayers out of them. Now she didn't even know how many were draped over every possible piece of furniture and floor space in her packed house.
Giles kept leaving and coming back with more like some kind of cat hoarder!
She mumbled something that Spike didn't get and probably wasn't supposed to. "What's that, pet?"
She giggled. "Pet…cats…it's a thing. Never mind."
He gave her that cute confused look only she seemed to put on his face.
"I didn't see or hear from Giles except when he called to give us the information on Willow coming home. Nothing. Then suddenly he shows up on my doorstep with these strange girls and he's acting all Watcher-y. No hugs, no 'I've missed you', no 'hey, Buffy, think you can afford to feed and house these girls?'" She rolled her eyes. "He didn't ask. They all just strolled in, criticized my housekeeping, dissed me as overrated and made themselves at home. Then Giles tells me it all fell to me to keep them safe and alive and somehow fight something I can't hit."
"So he told you all about the First then?"
"He said it had eternities to act and endless resources and that he didn't know how to defeat it, but that it was all on me to pull it off."
"Charming." Spike shook his head, picturing the scene.
"He just keeps dropping them off like rescued kittens, gives me stern lectures on how very important this apocalypse is, then goes out to pick up more." She sighed wearily. "Good thing the town's nearly empty. We can loot the stores for food and we won't starve. That would have re-won his approval. He brings them to me to protect and save and they all die of starvation!"
"He's a pretty single-minded bloke, I'll give him that."
Buffy leaned into Spike again, subconsciously seeking comfort from his closeness. "He acted so cold, Spike. What did I ever do to make him so distant?"
"Hey, now. None of that! Problem's his, not yours."
"I keep driving everyone away though. In the end, it's always like this. There's something wrong with me as a girl, a woman…not a slayer. I've got that part down pretty well, even if Giles doesn't trust my decisions."
"That's not so. The ones that left are weak, that's all. Had nothing to do with anything lacking in you. What's missin' with your old man, both of them really, and the sad excuses for boyfriends who left, are balls, Buffy. None of them willin' to stand up and be a man, be at your side. Be what you need."
Buffy merely blinked at him in confusion. She was so used to just accepting that something was wrong with her that the idea it might not be wasn't making too much sense. "How is Giles ball-less?"
Spike wanted to chuckle that she hadn't included Angel or Finn in that question. Maybe she saw their feet of clay after all.
"I saw him after you died. Fell right apart, he did. Handed over all the power to Willow; helped her skip down that dangerous path, if you think about it. Just handed it all over. Left me to deal with the Bit for the most part and you know how he feels about me! He'd help patrol, then go off to brood or drink or whatever the hell he was up to back at the Magic Box. Finally couldn't even stand to patrol and packed up his kit and scarpered off. Left the Hellmouth to the children and a vampire he hated."
"I guess he figured you all could handle it."
Spike did chuckle at that. "Did it look handled when you popped back to the land of the livin'? Made a bloody mess of it, nearly gave the town over to biker demons." He looked at her tenderly, remembering the night she returned to him. "Took a girl fresh out of the grave and in shock to put that to rights and you did it."
Buffy didn't remember much about that night except that she was certain she had been cast into hell like Lucifer of old.
"Ball-less Wonder came back to see if it was true, stuck around long enough to make you think you could rely on him, then left again. He was afraid if you ask me. Got you killed a couple of times already and feared he'd do it again. Couldn't handle it and took a powder."
"So why does he question all my decisions?"
"Doesn't want to admit to himself that you really don't need him, not as a Watcher and teacher anyway. Wants to tell himself he's the brains, the adult, then he buggers off to bring home another girl." He impulsively pulled Buffy into a brief hug. It felt wonderful holding her again if only for a moment of comfort. He was pleased that she didn't shrink from his touch.
"I don't know, Buffy, I only can guess why he's actin' like a right arse. Don't even analyze myself, much less Rupes. I do know he wants you to win, not just because it's his job to make sure evil doesn't. He wants you alive. The old bugger grieved when you died. I saw it. You'd have to ask him why he's bein' the south end of a north-bound horse all of a sudden."
"So I should, what? Forgive? Forget?"
Spike was tempted to tell her to toss Giles out on his ear but he knew from the memories stirred tonight in his own life how important it was to know your parent loves you. Buffy had always been stronger because of her friends and family, he'd noticed that right off. She needed to be the strongest she'd ever been now and that meant putting a bandage on this gaping wound, for now at least.
"I seem to remember something you told me about a rare bit of wisdom Giles passed on to you back in the day. Something about forgivin' being an act of compassion that you don't do because someone deserves it, but because they need it. That makes sense even to me. You don't need the distraction of letting him mess with your head and heart. You don't deserve to feel that pain either."
Buffy nodded uncertainly. She remembered Giles saying that and making it sound so reasonable. She was still so young then, so willing to see the best in others.
"Fathers disappoint their kids often. Nothin' new 'bout that, not just in this shiny modern time either. They aren't always there when needed and when they are they often say and do the wrong things. You got a double dose from the wanker who walked out on you and Joyce then Rupert. I've lived ages and no matter when in history, people are people, they screw up even when they try not to. Sometimes even worse when trying not to. They all do it, every last souled one of them and more than a few without souls." He smiled gently and smoothed back a lock of Buffy's hair that was trying to blind her.
"Maybe you don't have the time now to figure out why Rupert is acting this way, but what you need to do is hold onto the good memories. Remember the times he's proven that he does care, that he does respect and trust you. You can use his help now. Beat the bad guy, then sort it all after. Don't toss the baby out with the bathwater. Save the world, then work on the issues. Decide if it's worth puttin' it all in the past, goin' the full forgive-and-forget route, bein' noble."
"So you got a bucket of wisdom as a side order to that soul, did you?" Buffy laughed. "'Cause I'm thinkin' those are pretty wise words, mister."
"Live as long as I have and you can't help but notice some things, even someone as thick headed as I can be," he laughed.
Buffy hugged him, actually hugged him and it felt like heaven.
"Thanks for putting me ahead of…well, you. I know it won't be easy to be around Giles and Wood, much less fight beside them. I appreciate why you are saying what you are saying."
"Won't be fightin' beside 'em.'" He saw Buffy's quick flash of panic and rushed to reassure her, "I'll be fightin' at YOUR side, 's a difference."
She let out a gush of relieved air. He was staying! He always did when he knew she needed or wanted him. Even in the days when he was still with Dru and said he only wanted Buffy to make his three slayer jackpot, he stayed and helped beat Angelus. Why hadn't she noticed how reliable he could be?
He'd protected Dawn and it nearly cost him his life. He'd tried to be one of her group, to help out even when they pushed him away. He'd tried to love her back to life when all she wanted was to fall back into her grave. He'd tried to give her a reason to want to live. He fought for a soul to do a better job of it. And then he came back! He came back and was right there at her side trying to help with words while offering to take up arms against the beast that had battered and toyed with him. He didn't leave!
"Promise I've got your back, Buffy. Don't see that Giles would ever hurt you-not on purpose, at leas-but it doesn't matter. He won't, I won't let him, won't let any of them. When we kick the First's arse and save the day, then if you want to knock some sense into the Watcher, I'll hold him for you and maybe get a lick or two in of my own. For now, best we just put all that on hold and work to gettin' rid of the current Big Bad and I don't mean me."
"You're right." She saw him brighten at the compliment. "Don't get a big head over it; you probably won't hear me say it too often." She laughed, taking the sting out of the comment.
"I'm not much with saying what I feel anyway, and not just earned compliments. Not really talky girl, in case you haven't noticed. I know I'll have to talk to Giles about all this sometime. I can't go on being the Slayer if he's going to second guess me for the rest of my life. For now, though, I'll pass on the whole conversation thing and just sharpen my stakes and make my plans." She looked at him earnestly. "More people than Giles I need to sit down and really talk to later."
Spike looked confused.
"I mean you and me. It's about time we figure this whole thing out before we kill each other accidentally, you know? I've been picking up bricks tossed at me my whole life and using them to wall off my heart. Maybe I'm seeing that I can do something else with them instead."
"I don't understand."
"Maybe I…we…can build something with them. I guess I do have at least one lesson left to learn, but it's not Giles who can teach it. Got a feeling I might be looking at the guy."
Then she surprised them both by gently kissing one very stupefied vampire. She had a feeling that when it was all said and done they might just build something wonderful after all. Now all they had to do was win one little apocalypse…and how hard could that be with her brick beside her?