BAREFOOT ON THORNS By D. M. Evans Email - ripewickedplum2@yahoo.com Disclaimer - Let me check, nope, no money in my bank so I guess I STILL don't own them and Joss et al does. Spoilers - To the end of season 6 Rating - PG-13 to R (nothing that couldn't be seen on the show) Pairing - none really, post B/S Summary - Spike returns to Sunnydale and Buffy turns to her friends for help Author's Notes - This was spawned by Joss saying that Amber would be back but NOT necessarily as Tara.

Chapter One - The Prodigals Return

"Its so good to see you." Buffy threw her arms around Giles, nearly knocking him into the luggage carousel with her enthusiasm. "I wasn't sure you would come."

"How could I resist, Buffy?" After a warm hug, Giles took a step back and fastidiously straightened his rumpled clothing.

"How is she?" Buffy nodded towards Willow who was hugging Dawn and Xander simultaneously.

Giles plucked off his glasses for a nervous cleaning. "B-b-better than expected. She's made amazing progress with the Council's help. I thought it was too early for her to return to Sunnydale but she insisted."

"We'll all keep a close eye on her," Buffy said, her kaleidoscope eyes, with all their color, going suddenly solemn.

"And the other matter at hand best wait until we're somewhere private," Giles said sliding his glasses back on.

"Of course," Buffy replied, popping over to Willow's side.

Willow crushed herself to Buffy. The two friends clung to each other for several long moments until the luggage carousel buzzer sounded. She took a step back. "Is it true?"

Buffy nodded. "'Fraid so. We'll talk about it once we're alone. How are you doing, Will?"

Willow sucked on her bottom lip. "They tell me I'm doing good but it's so hard.without her."

"I know," Buffy said and meant it. She remembered her pain when she had killed Angel and sent him to hell. Yes, it hurt when Riley had left her but nothing like when Angel 'died' and went to hell. When Spike left she had a guilty sense of relief so she wouldn't have to deal with what she had done; she wouldn't have to sort through the jumble of emotions that he invoked. Of course, now he was back but she couldn't let herself think about that.

Death was what made the difference. When she killed Angel, something in her died, too. When Jenny died, she could all but see Giles' heart bleeding. When she died, Buffy could only imagine what her friends and family went through and when Tara died they nearly lost Willow, body and soul. But even death wasn't forever. Both she and Angel were proof of that. And if Willow had any plans of bringing back Tara, Buffy could make her a list of the reasons not to do it so long it could wrap Sunnydale like a shroud.

"I wish I knew what to say." Buffy grasped Willow's hand.

"There's not much that can be said," Willow replied unhappily. "Time heals, right? I hope that's true. Ooo, my bag." Willow brightened momentarily, pointing to a retro-70's vinyl bag with a bright yellow smiley face on it. Xander yanked it off the carousel for her.

"I still don't see mine," Giles said.

"Did you like England, Willow? Is it nice?" Dawn asked then remembered why Willow was there and her young face dulled. "I mean, all things considered."

Willow smiled warmly. "It's beautiful. I like Bath. The Watchers' Council complex is very neat.old-fashioned, very.um, British and proper."

Giles gave her a sidelong glance. "Yes, well that's to be expected. We are a proper lot."

"Hush you, or I'll tell them about you, Eira and the you-know-what," Willow threatened lightly and Giles cheeks pinked up and he stammered something unintelligible.

"Eira?" Buffy arched her eyebrows.

"She's another Watcher from Cardiff, specializing in Roman era British history," Willow said with some of her old cheeriness.

"Does G-Man have a girlfriend?" Xander asked, chucking Giles' shoulder. Giles just glared. Unfazed, Xander added, "I'll take that indignant look to mean yes."

Giles cleared his throat. "I see my bag, if you'll excuse me." He brushed past Xander and grabbed the large brown tweed bag only to find it was bent into a 'V.' "Bloody hell! Look what those pillocks did to it."

"Well and truly slayed," Buffy said, hiding a grin, not at his misfortune but at the rare sight at him 'losing his rag' as he'd say.

"Where do I go to complain?" Giles sighed.

Once the luggage was dealt with, they piled into Xander's car and headed for home.

"You said over the phone that Spike returned to Sunnydale with a soul. Are you sure about this, Buffy?" Giles asked, not for the first time. He shifted on the front seat so he could look back at the girls.

She bobbed her head, her pale hair flopping around. "That's what Spike said."

"But do you believe him or is this." Giles paused, trying to figure a way to say it delicately. "A way to get back with you?"

Buffy shrank a bit in the back seat and felt Dawn give her hand a reassuring squeeze. She brushed her hair back. "I don't think so. Spike is really wigged about this whole thing."

"Not to mention weepy," Xander added, honking at someone who had just cut him off. "It's very embarrassing."

"Spooky. It's spooky, too," Dawn whispered.

"That's a word for it." Buffy squirmed in her seat. "I believe him, Giles. Spike's not this good of an actor. He's so shaken by this I'm not sure how he even got back to Sunnydale."

"But how did this happen? I mean, did he want a soul to make you love him?" Willow asked. There was no accusation in her eyes for what Buffy had done with Spike, something Buffy had gotten used to seeing refracting out at her from Xander's and Dawn's.

Buffy shook her head. "No, that's why I believe him. The story is so ugly. He went somewhere to get the chip magicked out of him."

"What? Oh!" Willow's eyes widened. "He was going to come back and hurt you."

"Yeah, what a prince," Xander said, bitterness lashing through the car. "And he wonders why no one believed he really cared about Buffy or Dawn."

"I think maybe he did some," Buffy whispered, hoping it was true. If he did really feel something for her then it made their relationship a little less heinous. Otherwise she had just been screwing an unfeeling murderer and she wasn't sure how she could handle that reality. Squaring her jaw, she swallowed back those painful emotions. "It worked. The chip's gone but now he has a soul. I believe him because he told me the worst thing he could have. He'd have lied if he was telling me a tale to get me back."

"Yes perhaps. Has he tried to hurt anyone?" Giles asked.

"No, not that I know of but we're never alone with him." Buffy shot Dawn a sharp glance. "If he's like Angel with a soul and no chip to stop him, he can hurt people. Only his willpower keeps him from it. I can't trust anyone with him until I learn more about what's happening."

"Good thinking." Giles smiled briefly.

"But Angel doesn't kill people and he doesn't seem so sad all the time," Dawn said as if she had really known Angel. Thanks to the monks, Buffy guessed she actually had, though Angel had always seemed sad enough to her.

"Angel had a century to get used to having a soul and he didn't have an easy time of it. Until Buffy, Angel lived like an indigent, barely holding on to his sanity," Giles said.

"And not all souls are good, Dawn," Willow added.

"William was a poet and a momma's boy. Spike tried to tell me he was born bad but once, when I fought Angelus he was mocking Spike just to get under my skin. He told me if he could turn Spike into something wicked imagine what he could do with Xander and Willow once he got his teeth into them," Buffy said, flinching at the memory of her first love's face twisted with such hatred. "I don't think he'd have an evil soul. But here's the weird thing, and it's probably best that you hear it from Spike. He says he has memories that aren't his."

Giles' eyes lit up. "Who's are they?"

"He can't tell. They're not clear, like unformed dreams," Buffy said. "You'd better to hear it from him."

"Yes, of course. It's all very fascinating." A thoughtful look eased the lines in Giles' face. Buffy knew that look well. It usually preceded research mode.

"Told you. You owe me a candy bar," Xander said, looking into the rearview mirror as he drove.

"Darn." Dawn pouted.

"I beg your pardon?" Giles asked.

"I bet her that you'd say that," Xander said and Giles favored him with another withering look, and mumbled something that sounded suspiciously like 'tosser.' Buffy grinned, knowing what that meant, thanks to Spike.

The rest of the conversation drifted to safer topics, mostly Dawn asking about England and telling Willow and Giles about what had been going on with them. They unpiled from Xander's car once he pulled into Buffy's drive. Buffy noted how slow Giles was moving. She took the garbage bag he had been given to replace his luggage so it could be sent off for repairs and carried it in for him. He didn't protest.

"Where is Spike?" Giles asked.

"In his crypt. He's been barred from the house again. I did it once he ran off. I didn't know where he was or what he was doing so." Buffy waved her hand at the door. "I didn't trust him and I still don't. Without that chip, well I don't want to be worrying he might get in here and do something."

"You mean you don't have him chained up?" Giles asked shocked, nearly stumbling over the stairs to the door. "Buffy, if he truly is chipless, he could run amok."

Buffy wagged her head. "You haven't seen him, Giles. He barely even gets out of bed. He mostly lies there, crying. It's pathetic, really."

"We thought about chaining him up just in case it was all an act. Buffy kept a covert eye on him for a week and nothing. He never came out of his crypt. We've been taking blood to him," Xander said, giving Buffy a look that read 'but don't ask me why we bother.'

"He's been reading. I saw the books when we went there for a blood drop," Dawn said. "Poetry, Keats, Shelley, Bryon, Plath. All mopey stuff."

Giles pursed his lips but kept quiet.

Buffy knew he wasn't thrilled about this so she plowed ahead. "He's not even watching Passions any more."

Giles ran a hand through his thinning hair. "So, we're meeting him where then to talk about this?" Giles asked. "Surely we're not walking into that graveyard. I don't like the idea of all of us packed into his crypt."

"We've been using the new high school as a de facto meeting place. It's still under construction and Xander's firm is doing the work. It's not like we're really breaking and entering and it's private. We've gotten Spike to come there once," Buffy said. "He'll meet us there tonight. He said so. I'll make sure of it."

Giles nodded. "Good enough."

"I'm thinking pizza," Xander said abruptly, his eyes flicking between Buffy and Willow. "Why don't me and the Dawnster go make a run while you and Willow settle in?"

"Sounds good to me," Willow said.

"I think I'll start tea," Giles said, with a slight nod at Willow. Buffy read that gesture - and Xander's offer - to mean he was giving them a little alone time.

She touched Willow's arm. "Let me give you a hand with your bags, Will."

Willow nodded but she paused as she climbed the stairs. Buffy thought she was going to break down. She reached out for Willow, their fingers touching briefly. Willow collected herself and made it to the second floor.

Buffy wasn't sure how to say it but she blundered ahead. "Will, I've taken Mom's room. I didn't think you could.you know, bear it in here. You can have my old room or if the house is just too much for you, Xander's offered to sleep on his couch and you can have his room. He might like the company."

Willow's chest heaved. "I'll be okay here. Thanks Buffy."

"You don't need to thank me, Willow." Buffy crossed her arms, shifting a bit nervously. "How are you really?"

Willow sat on the bed in the now-guest room. Buffy's 'escape' tree, outside her former bedroom window, looked somehow ominous even in the daylight. "Tired, scared, sad, lost."

Buffy sat with her, putting an arm around Willow, feeling weird about it. In a sudden flash it occurred to her she wasn't a 'toucher' as Mom would have said. She always kept her distance, respected personal space unless of course it was time to intimidate someone. She wore her space like armor until now. "I know, Willow. And it's hard. I've spent the last months adrift. I'm still just going through the motions but I'm starting to come alive again. I feel like I'm dancing barefoot on thorns."

Willow's eyes misted up. "I'm so sorry, Buffy. If I had known."

Buffy held up a hand. "No, Willow, it's okay. I'm not blaming you. I'm just saying that I do understand all those feelings you named. I mean in my short time I've lost Mom. I've lost a man I loved. I've lost Heaven and I did things that sometimes I think I'll never forgive myself for, or feel clean and whole again, things like Spike. But I think I'm slowly getting better and you will, too. You're stronger than me in a lot of ways."

Willow shook her head. "I'm not."

"You are and you can make amends for what you did," Buffy insisted.

"Do you really believe that?" Willow murmured.

Buffy stroked her hair, which held no hints of that horrible muddy black. "I do. I believed it of Angel who did far more evil for far less of a reason and I can easily believe it of you."

Willow managed a weak smile that collapsed. "I miss Tara so much."

"I know."

They fell silent, shoulder-to-shoulder but it wasn't uncomfortable. Finally Willow got up.

"I should get cleaned up a little. It was a long flight."

Buffy smiled. "Sure. I'll be downstairs with Giles if you need me."

"Thanks."

Buffy reluctantly left Willow, hoping that she wasn't too overwhelmed. She found Giles in the kitchen adding Lyle's Golden Syrup to his tea. He liked it better than honey and Buffy had kept a can of it in her kitchen for him even though the label disturbed her. She'd never admit it to him but a label with dead lion with bees coming out of it wasn't something that inspired her to eat it.

"Would you like a cup?" He nodded to the teapot.

"Thanks."

Teacups in hand, they retired to the living room. He still seemed stiff and somehow much older to her. It hurt to see it.

"Are you all right, Buffy?" he asked, reading her distressed expression.

"I was about to ask you the same thing," she replied as he slowly lowered himself onto the couch. "You seem achy."

He sighed, letting his head drop back. "I am. I did, after all, have quite a lot of debris fall on me. I don't bounce back as fast as I used to."

"I thought you had been killed.I was so afraid," Buffy said, unashamed of how her voice shook.

Giles nodded. "You weren't the only one. I still hurt some and sitting for all those hours on the plane didn't help." He sipped his tea. "I keep thinking if only I were a few years younger I'd feel fine by now."

"A few years?" She smiled to ease the sting of that.

Giles snorted. "I look in the mirror and barely recognize the face staring back at me. I think 'where did all these lines come from? And when did my hair start to turn to ash?'"

"Probably right about the time you met me."

This time he laughed. "Well, I didn't want to say so. I'm staring at the high side of forty in that mirror wondering where the time went. It seems like yesterday that." He trailed off.

"That you were Ripper raising hell all over the place." Buffy left off the 'sometimes literally.'

"Yes." He frowned prodigious. "Well, perhaps I don't need to be that young again."

"At least you have a better class of friends now, even if we are turning you old before your time," Buffy said.

"Worry will do that to you. And I know I shouldn't worry too much. You've proven yourself time and again," Giles said.

"I like that you worry. That's more than my own father bothers to do," Buffy said unhappily, running a finger over the rim of her cup. "You mean more to Dawn and me than he ever will no matter how awful that is to say."

Giles stared at her for a moment, his blue eyes misting. "Thank you, Buffy."

She coughed, feeling embarrassed. "Is there anything I can get you to help with the pain?"

He shook his head. "I'll be fine. If I were home.let's just say Eira was trained in massage therapy to help the Slayers-in-Waiting after a long day's training."

"Massage therapy? You never sprang for me to have a massage," Buffy said, pushing her lower lip out while trying not to imagine Giles' new girlfriend massaging his naked body.

"At the prices they charge here? As if a librarian could have afforded that," he said grinning.

Buffy smiled back. "So, tell me about Eira and the you-know-what."

He looked indignantly down his nose. "I shall not, young lady."

"Don't make me worm it out of Willow." She wagged a finger at him.

His look morphed into a smarmy one that would have made both Angelus and Spike very jealous they couldn't match it. "The you-know-what was a dual pack of glow in the dark, raspberry flavored bubble bath and body butter."

Buffy shivered the unwanted image of Giles naked surrounded by glowing bubbles popping into her mind. "Never mind. I don't want to know."

"Yes, well that will teach Willow not to be too helpful and open my mail for me."

She chucked his shoulder gently. "Okay, eww enough."

"While we're on the subject of sex..."

"We're not on any subject," Buffy protested frantically. "There is no subject!"

Giles ignored her. "Where is Anya? Is she still around?"

"We haven't seen her since that day. Maybe she decided cursing and-or killing Xander wasn't worth it. I think maybe part of her still loves him. We're kind of hoping she just moved on now that her shop is gone," Buffy said.

Giles nodded, not sure he bought it. He rather not think about Anya's offer to him or how close he came to honestly desiring it. Not so much for the implied sex but dying old and alone was a terrifying prospect. He didn't want to admit it, even to himself, but he knew he was still likely to outlive his Slayer. Most Watchers did. "Is Willow settling in all right?"

Buffy gazed up at the ceiling. "I don't know. I think so. And tonight, I'll take the sofa. You take my bed."

He shook his head. "No, Buffy, I'll be fine here."

"No, you won't. You had a long flight. You need the rest. I don't, not really. And I'm not recovering from being totally flattened. You take the bed."

Giles slumped a bit on the couch. "Thank you."