Chapter Five

Buffy answered the door, prepared to do what she really didn't want to; invite Spike back in. But the reality was it was next to impossible to protect Dawn from Spike. She couldn't watch her all the time and if Spike couldn't come to Dawn, she could go to him. Still, Buffy wasn't sure Dawn would. Dawn hadn't forgotten what Xander had said about Spike trying to rape her and obviously hadn't forgiven Spike.

Buffy was glad Dawn wasn't here at this very moment as she swung open the door. The haunted look in his blue eyes would have been enough to melt her sister's heart. It was killing Buffy. It was as if Tara was staring out at her and she could barely keep herself from caressing his cheek.

"Come in," she said roughly, trying to control herself.

Spike moved in as if he was feeling his entire age. He dropped his gaze as he passed her and very uncharacteristically moved through the house to the living room without saying a word. Buffy couldn't remember ever seeing a quiet Spike. He loved the sound of his own voice. Seeing Willow sitting on the couch next to Giles, Spike hesitated.

He looked over his shoulder at Buffy. "Should she be here?"

"Why does everyone keep asking that? This affects me more than anyone!" Willow said, getting to her feet. Giles went to pull her back down but paused at a look from Buffy.

"I beg to differ." Spike sagged onto the floor next to the fireplace.

"I don't care about whatever pain you think you're feeling." Willow's face went blotchy with rage. "All I care about is saving Tara from you."

"You think I wouldn't love that, Red? Do you think I wanted this?" Spike said, a cold anger beginning to break through his ennui.

"You did it purposely, so I'd have to go with yes," Willow said, shrugging off Giles who did put a restraining hand on her arm this time.

Spike shook his head. "This was definitely not the plan. I nearly died earning what I wanted, to be me again." A look of defiance flared in his acetylene blue eyes. "To be like I was with Dru, the way I was meant to be."

"Xander's right, you're a real prince," Willow snarled.

"Willow, maybe this would be a good time for you to go to Xander's," Giles said, tightening his grip on her arm.

She glared at him. "I'm not going anywhere."

"You're making it very difficult for us to get anything done," Giles said sternly.

"Do you think this is easy for-" Willow started but Buffy cut her off.

"No we don't. It's not easy for anyone, Will." Buffy held up a hand. "And we know it's hardest on you, but if Giles can't ask Spike what he has to, how are we going to help Tara?"

Willow looked fiercely at her but she sat down on the couch stiffly and waved at Giles.

Spike glanced over at the Watcher. "Do you think it's for real? That this thing the demon put inside me isn't even me?" Spike dug his fingers into his chest so hard they could hear the fabric of his shirt tearing.

"Don't you?" Giles asked, tugging off his glasses for their millionth nervous cleaning.

Spike pulled out his cigarettes but Buffy confiscated them before he could light up. He looked up at her pleadingly. With a 'this is my territory my rules look' Buffy put them on the table out of his reach, savoring his stricken look. "Yeah, I do."

"Tell me about who did this to you." Giles reached for a tablet to take notes. "I'm assuming there's no convincing him to reverse it, provided you didn't kill him outright?"

"I'm not sure what kind of demon it was, really," Spike said, not addressing the demon's fate. "All I knew was that it was capable of fixing me.if the demon grapevine was to be believed. And it did. It didn't expect me to get through the trials to earn its help, bloody wanker, pissed it right off that I did. That's why it didn't just remove the chip. I guess I'm lucky it didn't bloody make me human."

"Would that have been so terrible?" Buffy asked, then clamped a hand over her mouth as if she couldn't believe she had said it.

Spike crumbled up further against the hearth, looking very small. "Maybe not.but probably it would be dreadful. Ask Anya how well that worked out for her. I can't help you with the name of the creature, Rupert or how it did this, just that it did."

"Well, you did want to hurt the Slayer and her friends. Congratulations, you succeeded," Giles said dryly. "Typical of your plans, you managed to bunge yourself up as well."

"Yeah, be sure to rub my nose in this." Spike glared at them all. "Look, I never wanted this to happen to Tara. I liked her.well, okay not really but she never did me no harm."

"You're not even fit to say her name," Willow snapped.

"Give it a rest, Red. It's not my fault your slag ended up stuck in here with me. You think I'm enjoying this, getting all girlie inside?" Spike shot back. For a moment he lost control and became the demon. Buffy wondered if he even realized it.

Willow exploded off the couch, grabbing Spike by the neck. "I should just stake you now and let her free!"

Spike just laughed, breaking her grip easily. Buffy pulled Willow away. "Looks like your Watcher's rehab is going so well. Tell me Rupert, is she at the bottom of her class?"

"Don't get on my wick, Spike, or I'll let her finish you," Giles said. Buffy shuddered at the look on her Watcher's face. She could see the dark mage in him peeking out from behind gentle blue eyes.

Spike snorted. "Fuck, you think I don't know this is how it ends, Rupert? No matter what, if you gits pull this bastarding soul out of me, I'm dust. I know that. No way you let me live if I'm not nice and castrated by that chip." Spike looked over at Buffy, resignation dulling his eyes. "You ready to do it, love? Ready to slip it in and have yourself a good day? I know my only chance of living is to get out of here now and learn to live with this soul."

"You can't do that," Willow whispered, nearly collapsing in Buffy's arms.

Spike tangled his fingers in his blond curls that were beginning to show darker roots. "I know. I know in the end I'm going to die but I can't live like this. I laughed at Angel when he got his soul. Maybe before you end it, you should let me call him to apologize. I had no idea what flavor of hell this was." A bitter laugh tore out of him. "So, if you're going to ask your questions, Rupert, why don't you put the kettle on and we'll talk over a cuppa. Just don't make it that herbal crap. I can feel something inside me wanting it but she's just going to have to learn to live with some good Typhoo."

* * *

Buffy absently washed the tea cups. Willow had collapsed on the couch sometime near midnight and she all but carried her groggy friend upstairs and put her to bed. Dawn was snoring loud enough to be heard in the hall. At least she hadn't pressed for too many answers after Xander had dropped her off. All the questions Giles had for Spike hadn't produced much in the way of helpful answers. And the most pressing answer for Buffy had to come from within her. When the time came, could she kill Spike?

Buffy roamed out of the kitchen, smelling smoke. Grumbling to herself about the foolishness of giving him access to the house again, Buffy rounded the corner to the living room only to see Giles smoking from the pack she had taken from Spike. She tapped her foot and her Watcher looked up at her. He took a drag on the cigarette then his lips quirked up in a guilty little smile.

"Sorry."

"I'll forgive you this time." She grinned, sitting down beside him. She nodded at the books on the table. "Find anything useful?"

"Possibly. There's a Draconian Katra spell, the one that was used to switch you and Faith.only I'm not sure if it can pull Spike's soul out of the aether and where it would dump out Tara's."

Buffy wrinkled her nose. "Doesn't that require a physical body and touching?"

"Not always."

"How about a spell like the one you used to force Catherine Madison out of Amy's body and vice versa?"

Giles smiled, a very pleased look in his blue eyes. "Excellent suggestion. It's also a possibility."

"And then I'll have to kill Spike." Buffy wanted it to sound easy but she heard the pain in her voice.

"Or we could curse him with his own soul.though, I don't suggest that." Giles didn't meet her eyes, rubbing the filter of his cigarette against his lips.

"I made that point myself, didn't I? Angel doesn't kill only because he doesn't want to. There's no guarantee Spike will react the same way to having a soul."

"Exactly. There have been far too many souled people out there that would relish the carnage Spike's caused over the years. We don't know his soul isn't such a one."

Buffy leaned her head against Giles' shoulder. "Can we not talk about this for a moment? I think it's starting to kill me." Buffy shuddered, feeling his hand give her hair a caress. "How are you really, Giles?"

"We've already talked about this. I'm getting better."

"I don't mean about the physical damage.I'm talking about inside here." She tapped his chest. "We asked you to do a very hard thing, helping Willow. She tortured you and we expected you to just forget that and try to help her. That wasn't very fair of us."

Giles sighed and tamped out his cigarette. "It's all right, Buffy. I'm learning I can be more forgiving than I ever expected of myself. Sometimes I think about it, remember the look in her eyes as she took great joy in trying to kill me. I tell myself that it wasn't Willow. It was the rage, the grief, the overwhelming power she tapped into. But other times I sit there thinking, you silly little girl. I tried to warn you and you didn't listen. Worse, she threatened me and that was before all the grief."

"And you know that it really was Willow, that there was no excuse for what she did." Buffy choked, trying not to think about it.

He pushed up his glasses. "Yes, then I think it's all my fault. I knew Willow was into magic. I knew firsthand how easy it is to go wrong. I should have given her some sort of instruction, some guidance. I failed her." His voice sounded old and tired and it hurt Buffy to hear it.

She squeezed his hand. "You had your plate too full with me and all we had to do."

He shook his head as if to say that was no excuse. "You and she are the closest thing to daughters I've ever had. In some ways, I was even closer to Willow."

"She enjoys all the same things you do," Buffy said. "I'm always irritating you and.and challenging you." She gave him a mock pout and he smothered a laugh.

"That's never made me love you less, Buffy." Giles smiled softly. "But you're right. And it makes what she did even harder for me to get past but then I think I have no choice. How can I not help? I can't just turn my back on her.like my father did to me. He never forgave me, Buffy, for the things I did when I was young. If it weren't for my grandmother, I probably would never have found my place with the Watchers. She was the one to forgive me for those transgressions and helped me back onto the path. If not for her, I would have been another Ethan Rayne, worse since I was always more powerful than he. Willow could still go that way and I can't let that happen. The world might not survive it so I can't let my pain get in the way of what I need to do."

Buffy kissed his cheek then rested her forehead on his shoulder. "We'd be lost without you."