[identity profile] eee1313.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] dancing_lessons_archive
Part one of two

Episode Nine: Cleanup

by The DL Crew
with help from hold_that_thought
Call And Answer by Barenaked Ladies

Thanks to everybody who came together to help put this one together, especially those of you (Sally) who had no obligation whatsoever to do so. Thanks to everybody else for being so patient with us. We hope we made it worth the wait.


*
Giles woke up on his living room rug. An attempt to take stock of himself revealed that he felt sore, depressed, and that he'd made a bit of a mess of the place -- pieces of broken glass, empty liquor bottles and books littered the floor. The memory of last night's events threatened to enter his consciousness; he wasn't ready for that yet, so instead he began the less painful task of gathering the shards of glass into a dustpan. This staved off reality for about a minute and a half. By the time Giles poured the pieces into the trash, he was starting to think seriously about the merits of Scotch as a breakfast food.

No. No more alcohol, I have to get presentable. Buffy …

"Giles." She stood just inside the doorway.

The dustpan hit the floor with a clang. "Good morning, Buffy."

"It's noon."

Giles studied her for a moment. In true Buffy fashion, she seemed totally recovered from the previous evening -- she showed no sign of the cuts, bruises and fatigue that he still felt. Also true to form, she'd cleaned herself up. Giles was painfully aware of his own appearance -- he looked like a hung over old man in drool-stained, slept-in clothing.
Also, she was very angry, and she'd been crying.

Finally, he asked, "Would you like to sit down?"

"I'm good standing." She crossed her arms and pursed her lips in a way Giles knew all too well.

"Then I'll sit," he said, and did so. There was another silence. "How is he?"

"How do you think?"

"Buffy."

"He's horrible," she said flatly. "He got home rambling about moving out and never seeing us again. I got him up to our bedroom but he won't talk to me. He won't talk to me, Giles."

"I'm sure that--"

"How could you?" she asked him, her face twisting with rage. "Do you have any idea what this is doing to him? To us? Did you want Ethan dead so badly you just didn't care?"

"Buffy, I am sorry that it happened, but--"

"But what?"

Giles stood up. "But we are, by the nature of the world we live in, sometimes called upon to make choices that other people can't."

Buffy looked appalled, but he pressed on. "Who was going to look after Ethan, do you think? The police? The Council? Were you planning to lock him up in your basement? Every time, Buffy, every time he has been shown mercy, more people have died."

"Giles, we don't kill humans."

"Yes," he told her, "we do. When we have to, we do. Have you forgotten that you were directly responsible for the death of Gwendolyn Post? That you put Faith in a coma with the intent of feeding her to a vampire? Or that here in this very apartment you shot a Knight of Byzantium?"

Buffy shook her head. "No."

"When you were sixteen years old you threw a man into a cage full of wild hyenas."

"I was saving your life. I was always saving someone's life. I had no choice."

"As I had no choice."

"It wasn't your choice to make!" Buffy shouted. "I'm the Slayer. Dealing with the bad guys is my job, not yours. You're not even--"

"Don't you dare," Giles snarled. "Don't you ever."

Her voice quieted with contrition. "I'm sorry."

"In all deference to those with an official sanction to defend--"

"I didn't mean--"

"To defend human life," Giles continued, ignoring her. "Had you planned on saving potentially hundreds of his future victims by letting Ethan get away? Because if he were allowed to live, he bloody well would have."

Buffy said nothing.

"I was angry with Ethan Rayne, Buffy, but I didn't want him dead because I hated him. I didn't want him dead at all. But there was nothing else to be done with him. Someone had to make that decision." Giles paused, then added, sadly, "He would never have stopped, Buffy, and you know it."

She looked to the ground as she took this in. After a moment, Buffy nodded and met his eyes. "All right. But you should have talked to me, to someone…"

"And put Ethan's blood on your hands as well?" He smiled ruefully. "I couldn't do that."

Her features hardened again. "But it's not on you, is it, Giles? It's on Spike."

"Yes."

"How could you let him?"

"I'm not sure I could have stopped him if…"

"Bullshit."

"Even if it had been possible, should I have pulled Spike off of Ethan and then finished beating the man to death?"

"Yes!" she shouted back. Buffy took a moment to regain herself, then continued. "Giles, I know you feel like you might as well have killed Ethan yourself. I know how that feels. Guilty, and rotten, and twisted, but you live with it. Because that's what you had to do. And it's horrible, but you live with it."

"Yes."

"But you don't know how it is for him. Spike…" She groped for words. "He wants to feel guilty. He wants to feel like he did something wrong, because that's how you or I would feel. But he doesn't, Giles. He can't. And it's killing him." She was beginning to cry again. "I can't lose him to this. I just can't…"

Giles took a step forward and put his arms around her and held her as she cried into his chest. He told her that he was sorry, which he knew was true, and he told her that it would be all right, which he was less sure of. They stood like that for awhile, because holding on to each other made it easier to believe.
***
The first thing Xander noticed: everything hurt. Extra super jumbo pain where he'd been shot, and where Giles had clubbed him like a baby seal. But basically, it just felt as though he'd managed to get every nerve ending in his body pissed off at him.

The second thing he noticed? Someone had stuck his hand in a vice. He opened his eyes.

"Faith."

His slayer grinned down at him for a moment, speechless, then leaned down and hugged him. It hurt. A lot. Not that he was gonna complain. The combination of her closeness and his not being dead more than made up for it.

"Did we get him?" Xander asked when she finally let him breathe again.

"I got him. It was easy." She crinkled her nose and then flashed that killer smile.

"How long was I out?"

"Couple hours in surgery, and then..." She took a few steps from the bed and turned back. Pacing, like she did when she needed to bleed off some pent-up energy. "Fuck, I dunno, a while? It's tomorrow, if that helps. Mr. Asshole-With-A-Gun was firing bullets made outta wood. You got a seriously high-velocity splinter."

Xander nodded. Which, it turned out, also hurt. "And you stayed here the whole time? That's... thanks."

"Yeah, well. Don't…" Something tightened in her face, like she tasted something bitter. He could see the telltale signs: the sort-of squint, the weight rocking back on one foot, the way her eyes locked on that oh-so-thrilling linoleum. "Not really looking to go home right now."

"Giles?" She didn't say anything. Which pretty much proved that, yeah, it was Giles. "He's okay, though, right? Back to normal?"

She gave a sharp nod in response. It made him want to kick Giles's mega-wordy Watcher ass. Sure, he knew that Giles was probably home right at that moment drawing and quartering himself. And even wiggling a toe caused massive owies, let alone lifting a foot so far as to nail British keister. But give him time, and he'd...

Hell, he didn't know. Anything to make that hollow look go away.

"And everybody got the antidote? No more Liquid Brain-o?" He flashed her his best attempt at big goofy grin.

She rolled her eyes. "Yeah, all the crazies got decrazified. Unfortunately, the dumbasses with a lame sense of humor? Still stuck that way."

"Kind of a permanent condition," Xander said. "Any other casualties?"

"Townies? Shit, a lot of them. Injuries. A couple deaths, but way fewer than there coulda been."

"And the home team?"

Faith perched on the side of his bed. "Dawn had everyone wigged for a while, but she's okay, don't freak out. You took the worst hit of any of the gang."

She took a long moment, picking at a piece of fuzz on his blanket. "Xander?"

"What?"

"Do Watchers get a bonus every time they get knocked out?"

"Faith," he said, "there are some secrets of the Council that I'm not at liberty to discuss, even with you. But on a totally unrelated note, I've got a windfall coming in. Want to go shopping?"

She laughed. And then went back to that pesky blanket lint. "You scared the crap out of me."

"Yeah. I'm sorry."

"You don't…" She stopped, started over. "You don't get to die, okay?"

"Hey, Faith, that stuff about your Watchers, what Giles said? Don't let yourself believe a word of it. You don't get your Watchers killed, it's just a-- "

Her gaze pinned him against his hospital pillows. "No. I mean you. You don't get to die."

"Oh." Xander nodded. Surprisingly, it didn't hurt. "Okay. I can live with that."

She squeezed his hand. She had that smile again. "Good."

***
Not long ago, Sara wouldn't have dared to take this route home from school. Not that it took her through a bad neighborhood, but... well... it passed under the shade of too many buildings. And for months after the so-called riots, even though the vampires had gone, people hadn't trusted shade. Too many things might be lurking. Not too long ago, Sara would still have felt this way, and would have taken the longer, but significantly brighter, route through the center of town. She might also have noticed that one of the sewer grates she passed was slightly ajar. But after nearly eight months with no sign of vampires or anything else going bump in the night, she didn't fear the darkness so much anymore.

About a quarter of the way home, Sara heard footsteps behind her. She turned her head, and there, about twenty yards away, stood the biggest man she had ever seen. He had blond hair and wore an ugly Hawaiian shirt. He was also a vampire.

Sara didn't panic. Sunlight still lay a few yards behind her. She had only to run in the opposite direction, find a Slayer, and tell her what she'd seen. As she turned around, a punch to her face dropped her to her knees.

"Hello, meat."

Three more vampires stood in front of her -- two men and a woman. Sara didn't recognize any of them, which would have been a relief if she weren't about to die.

"Don't worry," the woman said, her voice polite. "We're not going to kill you."

Sara gaped at the vampire. Smallish, short brown hair, not particularly pretty. She looked about forty years old, although that didn't mean anything with these creatures. "You're not?"

"Not yet. Now try to relax."

"Re... relax?" Sarah laughed, trying not to become hysterical but losing the battle.

"Here, let me help you," said the vampire, and kicked Sara in the head.
***
Faith did a hard one-eighty at the swings and headed back for another sweep of the park. This would make three -- about two more than necessary, considering Sunnydale's nightlife was still dead as ever. But it was either this or home, and home meant Giles and talking and awkwardness. Faith preferred the pointless patrol.
Hell, after the last few days the pointlessness was more than welcome. If she really wanted something to do, she could always help with the cleanup. The town had been pretty trashed and she figured it'd take a while to get it back to normal. Really, she just wanted to walk. Had to get out of that hospital. Xander had gone back to sleep, and even if he hadn't, a nurse had come in and pumped him so full of dope he wouldn't have known she was there anyway. But he would be okay. That was the main thing.
Someone behind her screamed. Faith spun, stake poised. So much for pointless. A girl about Faith's age came running across the playground. "Help me!" she cried, running up to Faith. She recognized the girl from the Starbucks. She panted hard, her freckled face all red and splotchy from exertion. She'd been running a while. "He's … oh God, he's a v… a vamp…"
"Vampire. Gotcha." Faith sighed. Great.
"We have to get out of here!" Starbucks girl started pulling at Faith, trying to get her to run.
Faith grabbed her by the shoulders. "Hey, relax. You're safe now. It's okay."
The girl shook her head. "No, it's not! He's… they…"
Faith looked around. "I don't see anybody. Looks like you lost 'em. Come on, let's get you ho--"
"Oh goodie, two chicks to take back to my pad." The girl screamed as the vamp stepped out from behind a tree. Greased back hair, leather jacket, cuffed jeans, smarmy grin … he looked like somebody'd vamped Fonzie. "Am I scoring tonight, or what? Man, I love this town."
Faith rolled her eyes and shoved Starbucks behind her. "You're obviously not from around here."
The Fonz looked her up and down with a leer. "No. Maybe later you can show me the sights."
Faith shrugged. "Why wait? I can give you the grand tour right now." She held up her stake. The vamp stopped grinning. "This here's the stake I used to cut out Kakistos's eye."
Fonzie's eyes narrowed. "That so?"
"Yeah. Didn't kill him, but you shoulda seen how pissed off he was. Oh, sorry, I should introduce myself. I'm Faith, and I'll be your tour guide for about the next minute."
He sneered. "Slayer."
"Hey, you're catching on!" Faith started walking toward him. With broad, tour-guidey gestures she indicated the park. "And believe it or not, you're standing on the historic ground where I staked the very first vampire dumb enough to show his face back in Sunnydale after we killed most of his kind and sent the rest of the baddies screaming for the hills. Oh, wait." She frowned. "I guess that has to actually happen before it can be called historic. Well, that's an easy fix."
"I'll show you easy," Fonzie snarled, and took a swing at Faith. She ducked it, laughing.
"Yeah, good example. Now let's try hard." She landed a punch square in his face, cutting her knuckles on his fangs. "Shit!"
Fonzie grinned again as he licked her blood off his teeth. "Slayer blood. They say there's nothing else like it."
"Yeah. Too bad that's the closest you'll come to finding out." Faith kicked him in the chest and sent him sprawling on the ground. She was on him before he could even think about getting up, driving the stake home. "Nope," she said, climbing to her feet and brushing dust off her legs, "that was still pretty easy. See? Told you you'd be sa--" She looked around for the Starbucks girl but saw no sign of her. "--afe. Huh." Girl must have run for it while she had the chance. Probably home by now. With a shrug, Faith turned to finish her sweep and almost ran into Buffy.
"Was that a vampire just now?"
Faith brushed more dust from her clothes. "Walked, talked and dusted like one."
"Huh."
"Yeah. What are you doing here, B?"
"Oh. I figured you'd be busy with Xander, so I thought I'd--"
"Take up my slack?"
"--help," finished Buffy. "But obviously you don't need any."
Faith sighed. "Sorry. I'm sorta touchy right now."
Buffy nodded. "That seems to be going around."
Flexing her hand, Faith cringed. "Remind me never to punch a vampire in the teeth. Hey, did you see a girl just now?"
Buffy looked around. "No. Why, she another vampire?"
"The prey. Guess she ran home."
"Probably. We should do another sweep. These guys usually don't travel alone."
Faith bit back a snipe. Buffy was only trying to help. "Sure. I was just about to do that."
Buffy gave her a weak smile. "Sorry. I'm stepping on toes here."
"Nah, it's cool. I could use the company anyway." They started walking. "So, you think this was just some random vamp, or a harbinger for something bigger?"
Buffy snickered.
"What?"
"You know you've been spending too much time around Giles when you start using words like 'harbinger.'"
Faith managed a laugh. "Yeah, well, that's not exactly a problem right now."
"He's being avoidy, huh?"
"I'm kinda being avoidy enough for both of us."
Buffy shook her head. "Man, Ethan really did a number on us this time."
"No kidding. Council said he got away. Morons. Wonder what he'll have up his sleeve next time he shows up."
Buffy tensed up, but her face stayed neutral. "Yeah. Hey, look, there's another one."
An innocuous looking guy headed toward them. He looked lost. "Hey," he said, "did you guys see a dude in a leather jacket around here anywhere?"
Faith and Buffy exchanged a look and both rolled their eyes. "Yeah, I saw him," said Faith.
"Really? Where?"
"He's around." She ran her hand over the dust that still coated her jeans and held it up. "Most of him is right here."
The vampire looked from Faith to Buffy and back again. Then he turned around and ran like hell.
"Hey!" Buffy started after him, but stopped and turned back to Faith. "Um…"
"All yours," said Faith. "I should get back to the hospital anyway."
Buffy grinned. "Thanks!" Faith watched as she ran down the vamp, but she didn't stick around to watch the fight. She already knew how it would turn out.
***
“Oz, tell me again, why am I the only one helping you move?” Willow punctuated her remark by dropping a box marked “t-shirts: dressy” on the floor of his new place.
Oz also set down a box, then faced her and shrugged. “Didn't think I'd need anyone else.”
Willow followed him out of the renovated one-truck fire station he now called home. “I'm guessing you expected Bingo's Furniture Palace to deliver the furniture to the inside of your house.”
They both regarded the sofa, futon, dresser and small dining room set sitting in his front yard. “I was hoping,” Oz admitted.
Returning to his van, he and Willow grabbed the last two boxes out of the back and shut the doors. As they walked back to the house, she called over her shoulder, “Well, at least now you know when Bingo says ‘store-to-door' delivery, he means it literally.”
“Good to know,” Oz agreed as the climbed the stairs to the loft above the garage area.
Moving the lighter furniture in proved to be easy. That finished, they returned to regard the remaining two items: the couch and the table.
“I wish I had known about this beforehand,” Willow mused. “I could have looked up a spell to make it lighter or have it apparate into your living room or something.”
“Hogwarts didn't teach you any furniture moving spells?” Though his face remained passive, Willow always knew when he was teasing her.
Rolling her eyes, Willow explained, “Spells take a lot of research to work. It's not like I could just point at the sofa,” she pointed to the sofa, “and say, ‘Wingardium Leviosa' and expect it to … Oh, no.”
The sofa in question rose quickly, floating out of reach. Oz watched it sail upwards, non-plussed. “Huh,” was the only comment he cared to make.
Willow, on the other hand, felt a bit more distressed. “Oooh, no.” She racked her brain. “Reverso.” The sofa continued to sail upwards. “Returno.” It hovered about one hundred feet above the ground. “Oh, stop!” she wailed.
The sofa plummeted back to earth from on high and splintered into a dozen pieces. Witch and Werewolf ducked and covered.
When the dust settled, Willow examined the mess. “Ooops.” She turned to Oz. “See, this is why spells need to be researched. But luckily,” she grinned, “I've ruined enough things that I know how to fix this.”
She stood over the couch bits and yelled “Reparo!” In a blink, the couch had reassembled. “There. All better.” She grinned at Oz. “Carrying it in seems like a good idea.”
“Fewer repairs that way.”
Struggling, they hefted the couch and staggered through the door.

***

After they got everything inside, Willow flopped down on the couch. “Do you have anything thirst-quenchy?”

"Sure." Oz opened his refrigerator. "I've got …looks like … water, water with ice in it, and iced tea."

"I think those first two were the same."

"I like to give you options."
“Is the iced tea powdered or store-bought liquid?”
“Uh, store-bought liquid.”

"Iced tea would be great," she decided. “I'm still a little suspicious of Sunnydale water.”

Oz came out of the kitchen with two glasses, handed one to Willow, and sat down next to her.
After drinking a third of her iced tea, Willow looked around, taking in the fair size of the loft. “Oz, how are you affording this? I mean, you haven't gotten a job since you've been here.”
“I have some money. Savings and stuff.”
She looked at him carefully. “Are you secretly rich?”
“Could be,” he replied. “And this loft isn't that expensive. Rental prices are down since the mass deaths last Christmas.”
“Oh. That makes sense.”

"So how are things?" he asked her, not so subtly changing the subject. "I've been kind of out of the loop since the whole Watcher mess. Didn't really want to bother anyone."

Willow thought about that for a minute. There was a lot. "Things are okay," she said finally. "Xander's out of the hospital. Dawn's doing better, and Spike has her training with him along with her physical therapy.”

"What about Buffy?"

"She and Faith dusted a couple of vampires the other night."

Oz grimaced. "So they're back."

"Well, maybe not," she said, finishing the tea. "But Giles says he thinks that all the craziness Ethan Rayne caused, plus, you know, the Hellmouth--"

Oz nodded. "Irresistible." He made a face. "I hate vampires."

She half-smiled. "They suck.” She caught Oz as he rolled his eyes. “So anyway,” Willow continued, laughing, “Faith's picked up her patrolling, and Buffy's talking about going back out, too."

"Faith's cool with that? I thought she had pretty much taken over patrolling?"

"I don't think she's joyful about it," Willow told him, "but she hasn't said anything. She's all preoccupied with pretending not to be mad at Giles."

"Water badness."

"Yeah."

He shook is head. "Interesting life we lead."

"It's always something. You really sure you want to move back here?"

"I like it here."

She chewed her lip for a moment. "Oz, this isn't …"

"It's not about you," he told her. "Or, it is, but not like that. I missed you guys. And I think I can help here."

"All right," she said. Then she grinned. "So how's it going with my replacement?"

“No one could replace you.” He smiled at her, affectionately.

She smiled back. "Okay. How's it going with the cute, brainy, redheaded barista? I don't remember you being nearly so obsessed with Starbucks before."

"Coffee gives me a lift."

"I'm sure it does."

"Anyway," he said, holding back a laugh, "it's not going. I haven't seen her lately. It's frustrating."

"Ah, well," Willow said cheerfully, "it gives you more free time to move in." She got up and took her glass to the kitchen. "You want to start decorating?"

"Do you have a spell for that?"

"Oz …"

"I think we're done. You want to go to a movie or something?"

Willow kept on smiling. "Actually," she said, "that sounds great."
***
"You sure you're up to this, Bit?"

Spike knelt beside Dawn in the center of the Summers' basement. He'd put down padding, making the place a reasonably safe and effective exercise space. Still, it paid to check. Dawn had managed not to make her injuries any worse when she fell, but Spike didn't want to press her luck.

"I'm ready," she told him.

"You remember what I showed you?"

She nodded.

"All right. I'm a mean, nasty vampire, and you're the prey." He transformed to make his point and advanced on her, but as soon as he got close enough she jabbed the tip of her wooden cane into his instep. Shifting her weight to her good leg, she swung the cane up toward his wrinklies. He blocked it (just barely), grabbed her cane and yanked her forward. She stumbled, but held fast to the cane.

Just like he'd shown her, she used her momentum to pull him forward, knocking him off balance. "Good," he said, but she wasn't done. She twirled the cane around, hooked his ankle with the handle, and yanked his foot out from under him. He blinked up at her from flat on his back, grateful that he'd put all that padding down. "I didn't show you that part."

Beaming, she shrugged. "I improvised. Cool, huh?"

"Nothing wrong with your reflexes," he said as he sat up. She grinned, but Spike noticed she favored her bad leg. "Maybe we should call it quits for now."

Dawn shook her head. "I'm fine. This is good exercise. What about the other one? The combo?"

Her eagerness made him grin, the first real smile he'd been able to summon for days. "That pretty much was it. 'Bout all I've got left is stake him while he's down." He frowned and looked at her cane. "Maybe I should sharpen the end of that for you."

"Like that won't raise questions."

He looked back up at her and raised an eyebrow.

"Okay, maybe not in Sunnydale, it won't. But there has to be more you can show me. My leg feels okay, I swear. What if this doesn't work? What if I can't do it on a real vamp--"

Spike's other eyebrow shot up.

Dawn sighed. "You know what I mean."

"Let's get something straight right now, Bit. I am a real vampire. Real as it bloody gets."

"I know," she said, pouting a little as she traced the design on her cane. "But if you really wanted to kill me, that wouldn't have stopped you. Would it?"

"Me? Not bloody likely." She looked disappointed. With a sigh, Spike got to his feet. "Most of fighting is mental," he told her. "It's not like chess -- anyone who says so is off their nut -- but it's mental all the same. It's about being able to react to your partner's every move."

"Like a dance."

Spike paused for a moment. "Yeah. Except in a dance, you want to have your next move anticipated. In a fight, you want to be able to surprise whoever you're fighting. Do this right, your opponent won't know if you're coming high or low. You ready to go again?"

Dawn nodded, and he rushed her. She repeated the maneuver from before, but this time when she tried to yank him off balance he stood strong and kept hold of her cane. Her eyes grew wide, but she kept her wits and lunged forward, driving the cane into his gut. When he doubled over she conked him with it on the back of his head. Spike fell to his knees. "Bloody hell!" he said, rubbing the sore spot on the back of his head.

Her face fell. "I'm sorry. Are you ok?"

"'Course I am." He tried for a scowl, but he was much too proud of her. He smiled instead, and stood up. "Any vamp mistakes you for schmuckbait won't know what hit him."

Dawn grinned. "Really?"

"Yeh. Still gonna sharpen that cane, though." She rolled her eyes, but then he caught an unmistakable wince. "Here, off your feet now," he said as he helped her to the staircase. "Y'know," he added, "those moves aren't just good for vamps. Soccer boy ever gets too rambunctious ..."

Dawn groaned as she sat on the steps, but it sounded more exasperation than pain. "You're not gonna go all psycho big brother when he picks me up on Friday, are you?"

Spike folded his arms and tried to look stern. "He's a senior. You're fifteen. What do you think?"

"I'll be sixteen in, like, a week."

"Even so. Can't hurt to put the fear of Spike into the boy. I know it's been a long time since I was one myself, but I still know what's goin' on in their heads and their ... er, in their heads a damn sight better than you do."
There was that pout again. "I thought you liked Bryce."

"Not the point."

She started to say something else, but stopped, her face clouding over. Then, out of nowhere: "Spike, I'm sorry for what I said."

Spike's eyebrow's drew together. "What you said..."

"The other day, I mean." She shook her head. "I don't want to fight with you again."

All his muscles tightened at once. "It's all right, Nibblet. You were drugged."

"But I... it's just... all those people who drank the crazy juice? They all did things they were thinking about doing anyway. Before. It's just, they were stopping themselves. And I don't want you to think that I--"

"Dawn," he said gently, "I'm not holding it against you. I don't blame you."

"But--"

"You're right to be worried. I'm a vampire. The real deal. I told you what that means, once."

She nodded. "The soul of a demon in the body of a man. But you're a good demon, Spike. I know that."

Spike came towards her. "Do you really? I've learned so much, Dawn. From you, from your sister. I thought I'd turned my back on the darkness, but… you should know, Bit: it's always there. Violence and chaos are a part of me, and I can't escape that."

And as long as I stay with this girl, with Buffy, they won't be able to escape either.

"Are you all right?" Dawn asked. "I mean, you've been mopey since the other night, and now all this darkness stuff... What's going on?"

He smiled, but he couldn't muster any sincerity to put behind it. "I'm fine," he lied. "Just have some thinking to do."

She got to her feet and hugged him. "You're a good person, Spike. I love you. Buffy loves you."

"I know, Pet. I love you too." Just not sure that's going to be enough. Dawn headed back upstairs. Spike only followed far enough to help her if she needed it. Then he turned out the light and went back down to think. For now, he preferred the darkness.
***
Tranquil Pines Memorial took about ten minutes to patrol. Max. If you were in a really, really thorough mood. Faith had been there twenty. Just hanging out, enjoying the moonlight. Stalling from going h-- back to Giles's.

That vamp the other night -- didn't much matter if it'd been too damn stupid to avoid the Dale, or if the Hellmouth was back to sending out them irresistible "Hey, Evil! Come hang out here!" vibes. Nope. What mattered was that it'd been there.

And it meant that things made sense again. Vampire Slayer. That was the title. Not Psycho-Townspeople Stopper, or Friends-Getting-Shot Witnesser, or Temporarily-Nutso-Bastard Punching Bag. Nope. Vampire plus Slayer equaled big fight, then big poof of dust. Simple.

Leaves rustling in the bushes could be the wind. Or a cat. Or stupid teens with a death wish.

Or it could be a vampire.

The crunch of gravel, a murderous Somethingorother Demon in sore need of killing.
A twig snapping? Death coming after her, looking for an ass-whupping.

'Course, she didn't hear any gravel or twigs or jack or shit.

She took a deep breath and reached out with her Slayer sense, trying to feel for it. A tingle, a twinge of awareness in her gut that meant a... disturbance in the Force.

Yeah. That never worked.

So, no vamps tonight. Greedy, wanting two in a row. Or three. One after the other, for a solid smackdown that had her just a little scared as to whether she'd get out of it alive.

She walked back to the entrance, taking a moment to survey the place one last time before she left.

So where to now? Buffy's? Nah, the vibe there -- something felt off, uncomfortable. Some big-ass secret making tense faces and shifty eyes. Xander should be in bed by this point. Hell, he'd been in bed all day.

And no way she would walk in Giles's door until hours after his bedtime.

So, instead, she began another lovely moonlight tour of Sunnydale's scenic cemeteries. And ran smack into a vampire.

"Sorry," he said, looming over her. "You all right?"

"Yeah. It's all good. Wasn't looking where I was going." He didn't vamp out on her, but she knew. Big guy even smelled dead. And wearing a Hawaiian shirt that loud just had to be evil, right? But what was with the manners, and the not fighting? He couldn't get away from her fast enough.

So much for a boring night.

Faith ducked into the shadows. If the big guy wanted to hide something, more power to him. Hope he didn't mind her dragging that secret out in the open and getting it all dusty.

She trailed the vampire back through the graveyard and out through the other side onto La Rosa. Big Hawaii kept looking around furtively, but never directly behind him where Faith followed. Finally he met up with two other -- well, she was gonna assume vampires until proven innocent -- in a random driveway. The house behind them looked empty. Dark.

Faith snuck closer to listen in on the convo.

"You just let her go? Jeez, man."

"She might've screamed. You know how close to Revello we are?" The voice of the big guy.

"And? So what, so we kill her, too."

"Now I know how you became a vampire. You're too fucking stupid to live."

"Rudolph's right." A woman's voice. "We play it cautious for now. There's no reason to take any risks."

Faith smirked. Rudolph?

"So when are they getting here? I'm hungry."

"Shut up, Eddie."

She'd heard three voices. Three against one; odds were a tossup. More than that and it'd take some reinforcements. She eased forward a few inches, trying to get a good look in the open garage. Hell. The three chatty vampires had three quiet buddies. Six vampires, looking to ambush Joe Suburbia and his family when they pulled up in the old SUV. Not very nice odds.

And six to one, even when one was a Slayer? She still found it tempting. She itched for the fight -- could feel her adrenaline jack up and her muscles clench.

No. Bad odds. Get backup.

"Guys, guys! If you're going to borrow the lawnmower, you've got to ask first." Buffy stood in the middle of the street, hands on her hips. "And he never loans his power tools to vampires."

Buffy charged right at Eddie, cracking her boot across his face. Then she tossed two quick lefts at her opponent's face and staked him with the right. She didn't even seem to notice the five other vampires circling her.

Faith lunged from the bushes, a stake in each hand. Stab, spin, and stab -- and two fewer vampires to fight.

"Hey, Faith!" Buffy grinned. "You wanna call your shot, or just take 'em down as we go?"

"Yeah, I don't much care," Faith started. The female vampire kicked her in the ribs, knocking her back a few steps.

"Right." Buffy launched herself at another vamp. "You chick fight. The guys are mine."

Faith and the woman circled each other, trading punches. "I'm going to eat your brain," the woman threatened.

"That's zombies, you moron." Faith hit her in the gut. "Get it right."

And another shot to the gut. Block a punch. An elbow in the face. Then a sharp knee to the nose, and a sharp stake to the chest. Presto, Lame-Ass Insult Bitch poofed into powder.

"We get 'em all?"

"I got mine. The Big Kahuna took off, though." Buffy wiped the dust off her hands. "'Fraidy-cat."

Faith took a few steps into the street. "You see which way he went?"

"Eh." Buffy shrugged. "We'll get him next time."

"Buffy, what the hell were you doing?"

"What? I had a plan."

"Nice plan, girlfriend," Faith said. "Get killed. They'd never see it coming."

Buffy laughed and began walking down the street. "What? I saw you. I knew you had my back. I come out overt, you ambush them. Worked perfect."

"You saw me?" Faith followed Buffy a few steps behind.

"Duh. Pleather gleams in the moonlight." They turned a corner, heading back towards Revello. Then Buffy said, "Heh."

"What?" Faith asked.

"Nothing. It's just... You, telling me to be cautious? That's chock-full of irony, right there."

Right, because Faith was all about the gung-ho and the ruthless chances. Got it.

"Not in a bad way," Buffy continued. "It's odd, is all. Glad to see you using your head."

"Um. Yeah."

"Come on. Race you back to my house!"

Buffy took off down the street at full sprint. Faith watched, motionless, for a few steps, until Buffy reached the crosswalk at the end of the street. Then she bolted after her.
***
Buffy and Faith called their Watchers as soon as they reached the house. When Giles showed up with Lydia, Buffy didn't know whether to be pleased or annoyed. She only knew it made her glad Spike had decided to sit this one out. She didn't know if she could deal with them both in the same room together just yet. It was a relief when Xander had shown up, his arm in a sling, a little groggy from his pain meds but ready to get back to work.

"They were what?" he asked, after Buffy and Faith finished telling everyone about the vamps they'd fought earlier.

Faith raised her eyebrows. "Waiting, like we said."

"I think they were trying to be careful," Buffy added. "They were quiet, and they were out in force. If I hadn't seen Faith I probably wouldn't have even noticed."

Lydia exchanged glances with Giles. "And you said there were how many vampires?" she asked. "Ten?"

"Six," Faith replied. "We got five of them, but one of 'em just took off."

"It ran away?" Giles sounded offended. "Almost disappointing, really."

Buffy nodded. "It was rude. We were just getting started."

"Nevertheless," said Lydia, "this is potentially very disturbing news."

"Indeed." Giles removed his glasses and rubbed the bridge of his nose. "Did you see a leader?"

Buffy shrugged. "There was a big guy--"

"Rudolph," Faith added. "But he didn't look like a leader. More like muscle."

"There's a precedent for this," said Xander.

That sent one of Giles's eyebrows skyward. "Is there?"

Xander looked a little embarrassed and proud at the prospect of getting to be Knowledge Guy. "Yeah. There's a typical behavior pattern for vampires in towns like Sunnydale."

Buffy scrunched her eyebrows in confusion. "There are other towns like Sunnydale?"

"Not right now," Xander told her, "but historically, yes. There've been a few times before when demons have been totally driven off a convergence. Vampires tend to follow a specific hunting pattern when they come back."

"Where did you read this, exactly?" Lydia asked him.

Xander gave her a nervous smile. "England. I had to do some digging to find examples, but I figured it might turn out to matter, so…."

"I'm surprised I've never read about this," said Giles.

This time Xander actually winced. "Well, you know. The selection of books here really doesn't have as much depth and… okay that was the most Watcherly thing I will ever say, can I die now?"

Buffy grinned at the three of them. "If you're done measuring your pocket protectors, guys?"

"Yes," Giles agreed. "What is the, um, pattern?"

"They go underground and nest," Xander said. "The idea is to keep hunting to a minimum, so they find some big, cavernous place--"

"Of which we have maybe a hundred," Buffy grumped.

"--and store people there. They try to keep them alive as long as they can, let them regenerate their blood supply. People have been known to last for a month or so." He frowned, adding, "It sounds like a pretty nasty way to die."
"Wait," said Buffy, "I don't get it. That's exactly what the Master and Dracula were doing last year. Not even Harmony would be stupid enough to come here and try something like that again."
"Forgetting the fact that the Master's army might very well have been successful, if not for Dracula turning against him," Giles pointed out.
"Yeah," said Xander, "but that was about building an army and seizing control of the Hellmouth. I doubt these new guys are anywhere near as organized or ambitious. They just want to eat and not get staked."
Giles stood to pace. "Which puts us at an advantage where victims are concerned. It's unlikely they'll turn anyone. An increase in their numbers would only draw attention to them."
"Not to mention the having to share with the newbies."

Buffy frowned. "But why here? Why not someplace where, oh, I don't know. Where the Slayers don't live?"
Giles stopped pacing and put his glasses back on. "We knew this day would come, Buffy."
"Yeah, I know. I just still don't get why they have to hang out on the Hellmouth. I mean, what? Does it give the blood here that extra tasty punch?"
"Perhaps you could ask Spike," Lydia suggested. There was nothing pointed about the way she said it, but Buffy's head snapped around to look at Giles anyway. A slight shake of his head told her he hadn't gone into over share with Lydia.
Buffy blew out a sigh. "I don't think it's such a good idea for Spike to go there right now."
"Oh. No, of course not. I only meant--"
"I know, Lydia. It's okay."
"So," Faith said, cutting into the sudden awkwardness, "we start combing the caves. Fun."

"On the other hand," said Dawn, coming in from the kitchen, "Spelunking. It's a fun word. I'm going to back and have cereal and pretend I didn't say that."

"So anyway," Buffy said, turning to Xander, "how many vampires are we looking at, here?"

He shrugged. "Couldn't tell you."

"Expect at least a few dozen," Lydia suggested. "Better to err on the side of caution. We'll need a coordinated hunt."

"Agreed," said Giles. "We should assemble everyone and meet back here tomorrow morning. We'll be more likely to get them all at once during daylight hours. In the meantime, I suggest we all go home and get some rest. It should be a long day tomorrow."

Buffy nodded. "Fair enough."
It took a few minutes to get everyone out the door, but when her guests had left, Buffy went upstairs.

"Spike?" she called. "You up here? We had a whole meeting."

His voice drifted out of the bedroom. "So I heard."

"I thought maybe you'd've…you know. Come down? Talked to people?" She pushed the door open and looked in.

He sat on the bed in the dark, looking at the window. He'd been up there for awhile. "Wasn't up to it tonight, Love."

She went in and sat down next to him. "This is some really powerful brood you have going." He didn't respond. "Honey, come on," she said. "You don't have to keep punishing yourself like this."

"Nobody else seems interested."

"Because you don't need it," she said gently. "People will forgive you." She raked her fingers through the hair over his ear. "I forgive you. You don't have to shut down like this."

He mumbled something that she couldn't make out.

"What was that?"

He turned to look at her. There was no mistaking the emotion in his eyes. "You're not listening. None of you. Not you, not Dawn, even Giles. You don't understand what--"

"Shhh," Buffy said. "Enough." She kissed him, gently but with passion behind it. "I just got back from fighting monsters, and you're not one of them. I love you." She kissed him again, just under his jaw this time.

"Buffy..."

"Hmm?"

"I can't. Not tonight."
"Jesus, Spike." Buffy got up and turned on the light. He squeezed his eyes shut against the sudden brightness. "Look at you. What's with this creature of the night routine?"
He squinted up at her. "Case you've forgotten, Love, that's what I am."
"Fine. Then why don't you just go back to your crypt?"
His jaw went slack and his mouth hung open. Then he shut it and nodded, getting to his feet. "If that's what you want."
"No, that's not what I want! God!" She sighed. "Spike, you haven't touched me since the thing with Ethan."
"Since I killed Ethan, you mean. You can say it, Buffy."
She put her hands on her hips. "Okay. You killed Ethan. And I know it's hard on you--"
"No. You don't know."
A disbelieving laugh escaped from Buffy. "I've killed before, Spike. You know that. God, we already had this conversation."
"We're gonna keep having it until you hear what I'm saying. And it's not the same. The people you killed … it's not the same."
"What about Faith?"
Spike shook his head. "Faith's still alive."
"No thanks to me. And I didn't only do it to save Angel. I did it because I hated her more than I have ever hated in my life."
"Okay." Spike nodded. "That was a nasty bit o' business, no denying that. But tell me, Slayer. Did you enjoy it when you plunged the knife into her gut?" Buffy looked down at the carpet. Spike moved over to grab her chin and force her eyes back up to him. "Did you twist the knife to make it hurt more, to make it last longer? Not because you gave a single bloody damn any more about who she was or what she'd done, but because it was the best thing you'd done in ages and you didn't want it to end?"
Buffy jerked her chin out of his hand. He backed up, shaking his head. "No. I'll wager you were horrified with what you were doing even as you were doing it. Sick to your gut over what you'd sunk to."
Buffy took a step toward him. "Spike…"
He pointed in the general direction of where Faith would probably be now. "And she lived to tell the tale." His hand fell limp at his side. "She's still alive to forgive you."
"Is that what you want? Forgiveness from Ethan?"
"No. You don't get it. I don't get forgiveness because I am not a creature that needs forgiving. Because I don't care."
Buffy shook her head. "We both know that's not true." She took another step.
"Don't." He held up a warning finger. "You don't know, Buffy. You can't know what I'm dealing with."
"How can I know if you won't tell me?" She folded her arms. "I do know that you're not dealing with it. Sitting in the dark? Moping around and avoiding everybody? That's not dealing, it's hiding. And it's not like you."
"No. You know what is like me? To not give a bloody fuck about Ethan fucking Rayne or anybody else. That what you want?"
Buffy couldn't come up with a reply.
"'Course it's not. I know you, Slayer. You need to believe that there's a conscience at work in here." He pointed at his head. "And here," he finished, putting his hand over his heart. "And I'm trying to give you the first one, Love. God knows I'm trying. But that's the best I can do."
"It's enough."
"Is it?"
Buffy dropped her arms to her sides and looked up at the ceiling. "Spike, you promised me you'd fight harder than this. If I wanted someone who'd sit around in the dark and cry about what a monster he is, I could've taken my dad up on his offer to move to L.A."
Spike stared at her, hard, the cord in his neck dancing and signaling his struggle to keep his rage in check. Then he barked out a laugh. He and Buffy blinked at each other, both of them surprised by it. He hung his head and chuckled silently. Buffy felt her own anger melt away as her lips turned up in a reluctant smile.
She closed the gap between them and took his hand. "You can still touch me."
Checking his laughter, he lifted his head to gaze at her. Wistfulness, sadness and love all swam in his eyes. He raised his free hand to her cheek. "I know."
"I wish I had the answers for you."
He nodded. "Know that, too."

She leaned against him. "I don't know how to deal with this either. I can't do it by myself, Spike."
His arms closed around her. "Obviously, neither can I." He rested his cheek on top of her head. "So, what now?"
"I don't know." Buffy closed her eyes. Spike had begun to sway a little with her, and the rhythmic motion combined with the safety of his embrace began to lull her into a complacent drowsiness. "Can we figure it out tomorrow?"
Spike drew in a breath and let out a long sigh, like he was trying to exhale all of the recent badness. He rested his chin on her head and said, "Sounds like a plan."

***
Giles kicked a pebble in the road, a little harder than warranted by an idle stroll.

Walking home from Buffy's, he and Faith should have been sharing ideas, or at least talking about their lives a bit. Instead, Faith kept her eyes fixed on the sidewalk and neither of them spoke a word. It was time to do something about this.

"It occurs to me that we need to talk," he said.

"Yeah?" She didn't even look at him, just kept walking. "What about?"

"I owe you an apology."

This time she did look. She smiled a tiny, unhappy smile. "For what? That thing with Ethan Rayne? Forget it."

She was going to make this impossible, he knew that, but he tried again anyway. "Faith, your trust is very important to me. And despite the circumstances, I can't help but feel that I hurt you."

"I'm fine. We heal fast."

Giles opened his mouth to say "that's not what I meant" in a conciliatory tone of voice, but somewhere between thought and execution realized that he didn't have to put up with this.

"Enough, Faith."

She stopped walking and stared at him, surprised. "What?"

He turned to face her. "I said that's enough. I won't have you lying to me."

Faith took a step back and shook her head at him. "Where do you get off--"

"What I said to you," Giles told her, "was wrong. I said it to hurt you and it worked. I may have been drugged at the time, but nevertheless the damage was done."

Faith kept silent.

"You're still so terrified," he said. "So worried that whatever love and support you're shown will turn out to be some sort of trick. It's not."

"It's not, huh?" Faith asked. "Because it sounded like you'd maybe thought of a few tricks. All I need is a daddy, that's what you said, right?"

"Faith--"

"No, it's fine," she said. "It's cool. You busted me out of prison, and you needed to handle me, so you thought, 'how can I make Faith like me? Let's see, she's got abandonment issues, maybe I just have to act like I give a shit.'"

He stepped toward her, but she backed away. "It was never an act."

"Of course it was!" she shouted. "I'm not stupid! I know you were trying to help, and maybe… I know things are different now, but you knew. You had to know just how to talk to me so I wouldn't flip on you. Just like Xander. Just like everyone." She wiped a lone tear away, looking angry at it for existing. "You called me a failure, an idiot. You said I'd never be Buffy. And you were right."

"I don't think you're an idiot," Giles said calmly, "And last Christmas, you faced down the Master and won. You're hardly a failure."

Faith chuckled, shaking her head. "You can't even see it, can you?"

Giles waited.

"I didn't do anything except what I always do. You got a plan, you pointed me at the bad guy and said `kill', and I did my best."

"And you're a hero."

"I'm a weapon. You think I don't see it?" She threw up her hands. "God, even this conversation! You piss me off so I'll let it out at you. Like playing a piano, right?"

"Faith, you need to understand how much I--"

She interrupted. "I know you care. I'm sorry I can't let it go so easy, you deserve more trust than that. All of you." Faith spoke calmly now, but her voice held a tremor that belied her control. "But you don't believe in me. All I'm ever going to be -- to you, to Buffy -- is a guided missile with a pointy stick. You just… you can't get how sick of it I am."

"You're a much better Slayer than you give yourself credit for," Giles told her. "You don't have to prove that to me. And if you did, you would have that night."

"What are you talking about?"

"You saved the Council." Giles stepped forward and put a hand on her shoulder. "You stopped me. Despite what I said, despite what I did. And you didn't do that by being a missile. Xander isn't training you to be an automaton. He believes in you. I believe in you."

Faith stood in silence for a while. Finally, she said, "Okay."

Giles's eyebrows raised. "Yes?"

She managed a small smile. "Five by five, G."
Giles shoved his hands in his pockets. "Why am I not convinced?"
Faith shrugged, and resumed walking. "Been a long day. Hell, long week. I'm a little drained. So can we just skip the tearful hug?"
"If that's what you prefer."
She nodded. "Good. 'Cause it's not like…" She stopped walking and hung her head. Her shoulders began to shake. Giles moved to stand in front of her, and she leaned into him.
"There, there," he said, returning her hug. His eyes suddenly stung. He took off his glasses and wiped them. "Are we, er, good?"
Faith sniffled and nodded her head against his chest.
Giles smiled, his first genuine smile in days.
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