Chapter Notes:

The secrets that escape aren't necessarily the ones you expect.


Chapter 19: Dance Partners

December, 2000 – January, 2001

Dawn was in the living room when Buffy and Spike came home, both carrying garment bags. She followed them downstairs. “You missed dinner.”

“We stopped by Little Bangkok for drunken noodle.”

“And green curry.”

Again? I'm starting to think you're addicted. Let me see the clothes. What'd you get?”

Buffy hung the bags from the open wardrobe door. “Have at it.” She sat on the bed with Spike.

Dawn unzipped one bag to find a black suit and a black silk shirt. “Predictable, but snazzy. No tie?”

Spike shook his head. “Gave those up decades ago, and haven't missed 'em.”

She opened the other bag to reveal a black cocktail dress with a ruffle-edged, angled skirt. The shoulder straps were silver ribbons, braided together, with a matching braid at the waist. “Ooh! Buffy! This is gorgeous! What about shoes?”

“My strappy black heels are in good shape. I think I've only worn them twice.”

“I've got a pair of patent leathers, buried in the bottom drawer.” Spike waved toward the dresser.

Dawn was still staring at the outfits. “I wish I could go to the Bronze with you. I miss all the fun.”

Buffy glanced at Spike. “Now? It feels like now.”

“Bit, have a seat.” Spike patted the bed beside him until she sat. “You aren't gonna miss all the fun.”

“I know, everyone's going to have dinner here, and get ready for the party.”

“Something before that.” Spike leaned toward her. “How well can you keep a secret?”

“Is that a trick question?” Buffy muttered.

Dawn slapped her sister's knee. “Hey! I can do it! ...For how long?”

Spike shrugged. “Could be months.”

He had her attention. “Oooh! This sounds big. What is it?”

“Before we tell you anything, Dawnie, we need your solemn word that you will not mention it or discuss it around anyone but us, Mom, and Tara until we tell you it's ok.”

“Um, sure.”

Buffy shook her head. “Not good enough.”

“Ok, ok! I promise. I won't say a word about it outside the house, and never when we have guests. Tara is the only exception. I got it. Cross my heart. Now tell me, already!”

“Tomorrow, we're getting dressed up before everyone else gets here, to do something we're pretty sure would cause a serious Scooby wiggins if they knew about it.”

Spike pointed to the bags on the wardrobe door. “Nibblet, those are our wedding clothes.”

A few seconds later, Joyce came running downstairs. “Dawn! Is everyone alright? I heard a scream.”

“We just told her about tomorrow.”

Dawn looked from Joyce's nod of understanding to Buffy's calm demeanor, and then to Spike, who was clearly fighting back the urge to grin. “You're serious? You two? The same you two who fight like cats and dogs, pretty much constantly? And Mom? You're ok with this?”

Buffy took her sister's hand. “One day, we'll explain to you why this happened so fast, I promise.”

Dawn narrowed her eyes on Spike. “You definitely can't get her pregnant, right?”

Buffy laughed and pointed at him. “You totally called it!”

*~*~*

Spike tipped the officiant generously as he was seeing him out. He shook his hand. “You have our gratitude, Mr. Carrouthers. Know it was short notice.”

The kindly old man patted his hand before releasing it. “Still nervous, son? Your hands are stone cold.”

“Poor circulation, is all.” Spike withdrew his hand quickly.

“Take good care of your new wife, William.” He took his hat and coat from their hooks and stepped onto the porch. “And congratulations.”

“Thanks,” Spike nearly whispered as he watched the man depart, the words echoing through his mind. He returned to the living room after shaking off his thoughts. “Good bloke, that one. Didn't even blink at being asked for an atheist ceremony.”

“Yeah, I liked it. Straight, simple, and to the point. Also, no one had to fight back a laugh at the phrase 'holy matrimony,' which I'm sure would have happened with the standard version. 'Til death us do part' was hard enough to get through with a straight face.” Buffy glanced out the window. “I'm starved. When is the food getting here?”

“The pizza guy is due in about 30 minutes,” Tara answered. “Everyone else will be here in about 15. And fair warning, I think Xander invited Giles.”

“Seems like he's around more now than when he was Watcher On Duty,” Spike grumbled.

“Because he's their family, too,” Buffy said quietly. “I may be the original link between them, but they have their own ties to him now, after all these years together. I'm ok with it. I'm not going to cause problems if they want to hang out with both of us at the same time.”

“That's a very mature attitude, Buffy,” Joyce said approvingly.

She shrugged and held up her left hand. “I'm pretty sure I'm supposed to be a grown up now.”

Dawn snorted. “I'm not holding my breath. For either of you.”

“Speaking of...” Tara wiggled her own fingers. “What are you guys going to do about those?”

Spike looked at the band on his left ring finger. “Guess we have to put them away,” he said reluctantly.

Buffy slipped her matching band off and held out a hand for his. “Gimme. I'll take them downstairs.”

He slowly slid off his ring and handed it to her, watching as she put them back in their boxes. “Wouldn't mind us wearing them.”

“We will eventually.” Buffy grabbed her black clutch purse and walked out of the room.

Spike jumped up as something occurred to him. “Hold it right there, Slayer.” He met her at the doorway as she stepped back into his line of sight.

“What?”

“As long as we're living here, that basement's home, love.”

“So?”

“Threshold.”

“Oh, hell, no.” She caught the look in his eyes and rolled hers. “Someone should have married you when you were human, so you'd have all this stupid wedding crap out of your system already. ...Fine. Go ahead. But just this once.”

Spike scooped her up and carried her down to the basement, leaving behind three snickering women.

“'Stupid wedding crap'?” Joyce repeated. “That's no daughter of mine.

“My sister, the great romantic!”

Tara shook her head. “He says he knows what he's getting into. I hope he's right.”

“I raised a sweet little girl who dreamed of a big, princess wedding, but somewhere along the line...” Joyce shrugged, still chuckling.

“She turned into a slayer,” Tara finished. “It's not your fault she grew up, um...”

“Cold and borderline heartless?” Dawn offered.

I was going to say 'practical.' ...Oops! They left some evidence behind.” She grabbed the copy of the marriage license off the coffee table and hurried out of the living room. She knocked on the basement door frame. “Guys? You forgot something.”

“It's alright, Glinda. Come on down.”

Tara came down the stairs to find the bride opening the lock box while she argued with her groom. “I can so dance!”

“Shaking your ass in a club isn't the same thing.” Spike turned to Tara, accepting the license. “Thanks, pet. Tell me, have you ever heard of a figure skater who doesn't know how to dance?”

Buffy took the paper from him and added it to the lock box with the ring boxes. “Club dancing is a kind of dancing. Hence the name.”

“It's sexy as hell, but it's not exactly a proper waltz.”

“Haven't we already had enough 'old Victorian fogey' for tonight?”

“Carrying the bride across the threshold is still done! Even by you bloody Americans!”

“Hey!” Tara pointed to the new additions to the box. “Remember those? You've only been married for about ten minutes. I think calling a truce for one night might be a nice wedding gift... for the rest of us.”

The newlyweds exchanged smiles, and fell silent. Buffy locked the box and Spike took it from her, sliding under the bed to return it to its hiding spot. She put her keys back in her clutch. When Spike came out from under the bed, she offered her hand to pull him up. “Alright, fine. Teach me.”

Spike pulled the portable stereo out from under the stairs while Buffy rifled through the CDs stacked on the lower shelf of his nightstand. Tara watched them, confused. “Ok, I give. What did I say that made you go all quiet and smiley?”

His smile returned. “That's how all this started, you know. How we went from wanting to kill each other to ...this. I asked her for a truce, just for one night.”

Buffy shrugged. “It seemed like a good idea at the time. I should have known better.”

A minute later, the sound of music brought Dawn down the stairs. “Am I interrupting the first dance?”

“More like the first dancing lesson.” Tara answered with a crooked smile.

Buffy looked up at Spike. “And here I thought we'd always been dancing.”

He gave her a warm smile. “All we've ever done, love. All we've ever-- Ow! Bloody hell, woman! Would you watch your feet?”

*~*~*

Willow, Xander, and Anya came into the living room to find it decorated with silver streamers and a 'Happy New year' banner, but no people. Joyce closed the front door behind them and followed them into the room. “I think I decorated the wrong room. The party has ended up downstairs.”

They left their dress clothes in the living room and Xander led them to the basement stairs, the sounds of music and laughter growing louder as they approached. They were met with the sight of Dawn being led by Tara, and Buffy being led by Spike, in an attempt at a waltz that was hindered by the fact that all three women were watching Spike's feet.

Dawn threw up her hands. “I give! This isn't working.” She went back into the bedroom area and flopped onto the bed to watch the action.

“You'll never learn that way, Bit. Glinda, come here.” Spike pulled Tara to take his place and stayed behind her, guiding her movements.

Dawn looked up to see their audience on the stairs. “Hi, guys! Welcome to the Hellmouth's weirdest dance studio.”

Xander shrugged. “Why not?” He led Anya into the open area beyond the bedroom rugs that was serving as a dance floor.

Willow sank into one of the club chairs and turned to watch the dancers. “You guys got dressed up early. I thought we were getting ready together.”

“Had a date with my girl,” Spike answered casually.

“I got here a little early, and wanted to be free to help you and Anya with your hair and make up,” Tara lied, just as Giles came down the stairs.

“For a couple of brawlers, they clean up pretty nice,” Xander commented as he attempted to give Anya a dip, between other improvised dance moves. “Tara always looks good, but Spike and Buffy are usually covered in dirt and bruises.”

“Bruises mostly inflicted by each other,” Dawn snorted. “Hey, Giles.”

“Good evening, Dawn, everyone.” Giles looked around the room, studying the mismatched furnishings and personal touches, the little signs of shared habitation scattered around freely, openly. “Dear lord.”

Willow followed his gaze, landing on two distinctly different pairs of black boots on the floor by the dresser. “They look pretty... settled, don't they?” she asked, thinking back to her conversation with Joyce a week earlier.

“Yes, I suppose that's one way of putting it.”

“If all this can happen in just a couple of months, I'm afraid of how much things will change while I'm gone.” She looked over at the dancers again. Tara looked happy and at ease with Spike's hand on her back and her own hand at Buffy's waist. She was laughing at the instructions from behind her being countered with sarcasm from in front of her. Willow sighed. “I feel like I've already been replaced.”

Dawn turned her attention from the dancers, and gave away that she'd been listening. “Yeah, like you would ever be where Tara is now, dancing between the 'brawlers,' laughing it up.” She shook her head. “Tara's not replacing you. She's taking a place you wouldn't want to take.” She rolled off the bed and went to the stereo, hitting the Stop button. “Let's go upstairs, guys. I smell pizza.”

Buffy and Spike watched everyone else file up the stairs. When they were alone, he whispered, “Did you hear all that?”

“What? The latest round of the Willow Pout Festival? I caught some of it.”

“Red still wants to be chums, love. Maybe you shouldn't be trying so hard to shut her out.”

“I'm not, not really. It's just that... It's easy to do. Tara knows us better, and can work with us. Anya is way more fun to go shopping with than pretty much anyone. Xander is almost to the point of being cool with us. He's clearly trying. Willow just wants me to be year 2000 Buffy, and I think I've proven I totally suck at that.”

“Few more hours, it'll be year 2001 Buffy.”

“Oh goody. 2001. A year so awful, I missed almost half of it, and it still royally sucked.”

“Should be better this time around. We've at least gotten a good start on it.” Spike touched the silver chain around her neck. “That's not actually a girlfriend necklace, Mrs. Pratt.”

*~*~*

At midnight, Joyce looked up from the letter she was writing to watch the ball drop on the television screen. After watching the cheering crowd for a couple of minutes, she finished her letter, tucked it inside a greeting card, and slid both into an envelope.

She took the envelope upstairs to the blue bedroom and looked around. It was beginning to take on the feeling of a museum, a neglected shrine to teen hood. Forgotten photographs and posters graced the walls. Little-used make up and costume jewelry filled the vanity. Rarely worn, brightly colored clothes hung in the closet. The bed was used so infrequently, the linens hadn't needed changing in weeks. Even Mr. Gordo had abandoned the room, having recently taken up a post on top of the new wardrobe downstairs, standing guard over the basement.

“You put it right out there for me to see, didn't you?” Joyce whispered to the room. “This was your way of warning me you haven't been nineteen for a long time.” She took the envelope to the only frequently used item left in the room, and placed it where she'd found a tarnished ring, less than two weeks before.

*~*~*

“Aaaand Buffy's officially drunk,” Xander said, laughing.

She tugged on his arm. “Come on, Xan! Dance with me!”

“Isn't that what your own date is for?”

“He was giving me shit about my club dancing, so to hell with him. This is just the right song for it. Let's go.”

Xander looked at Spike and Anya, who were at the table with them. “Guys? A little help?”

Anya pointed to the sling she'd been forced to put back on. “I need a break. And I think Spike is still a little too sober for all this.”

“Got that right.” Spike waved them on. “Go. Get Twitchy Toes out of our hair.” He watched as Buffy and Xander found a place on the crowded dance floor near the end of the bar and lost themselves in the music, moving together and apart again, drifting to various partners around them and back to each other in the easy rhythm of long time dance partners.

“Don't get jealous,” Anya said, watching with him. “The three of them -those two and Willow- have been able to do that since I met them. I can almost do it with Xander now, but it's taken a lot of practice. And one of us still sometimes ends up dancing alone for a few seconds before the other notices. I can't seem to get the timing. He says he doesn't mind, but I know it's just not the same for him as dancing with Willow and Buffy.”

“It's not that,” Spike murmured. “Was just thinking, that's almost the same place they were dancing the first time I saw her.”

Anya studied his expression. “Wow. You're really head over heels and goo-goo eyed, aren't you?”

“Hilariously so,” Tara said as she delivered their drinks and sat down to join them. She pointed to the end of the bar, where Willow had made her way through the throng to join her friends on the dance floor. “There they are, the original Scoobies, doing what they do.”

While the three at the table watched, Willow fell into the rhythm with Buffy and Xander, cycling between them and other nearby people with incredible ease. They had just come back together again when Buffy's head jerked in the direction of a man passing by them, leading a woman toward the door. She mouthed one syllable to her friends. She and Willow split up, taking different routes to the exit, so they wouldn't be noticed following the couple. Xander made a beeline for the table, grabbed Buffy's clutch without a word, and hurried out.

Spike took a sip of his drink. “Now, that's the original Scoobies, doing what they do.”

Anya frowned. “Should we follow them?”

“Nah, it's one vamp. How much trouble could he be?”

Tara laughed. “Yeah... That's not ironic.”

*~*~*

“So much for the first vamp of 2001,” Xander said.

“So much for the first buzz of 2001. Stupid slayer metabolism. One little fight, and I'm already starting to sober up. I'm going to have to fix that.” Buffy tossed her stake back to him and began brushing off her dress. “Wils, check my back.”

Willow swiped at the back of the skirt. “You're a little dusty, but it's not too bad.”

“Good. I really like this dress, and dresses I like tend to get ruined.”

Xander looked around the alley. “Man, this is just like when we were in high school. The three of us, the Bronze, and a little slayage action between dances.”

“Except for the formal wear and alcohol, yeah.” Buffy shrugged.

Willow's eyes grew wide. “And except that we all left dates in there. Together.”

“Oh god. They're probably talking about us.” Buffy hurried toward the door, her friends on her heels.

“Anybody seen the G-man, lately? What if he's with them?”

“The last time I saw him, he was hanging out on the catwalk, doing the watcher thing,” Willow said.

“Xan, get me some cash out of my bag.”

*~*~*

Xander and Willow returned to the table, taking seats beside their dates. Xander put Buffy's clutch back on the table. “I really should not be used to carrying her purses around.”

“It was good training,” Anya said. “You've been very good at carrying mine for the last six weeks.”

Spike raised an eyebrow. “You two forget to bring something back with you?”

Xander grabbed the purse again. “Stake's in there. We're good. ...Oh! You must mean your girlfriend.” He grinned. “I'm just messing with you. She's talking to Giles.”

“Shame. I'm ready to head back out there.” Spike looked around the table. “Who's game?”

Tara gave Willow a nudge under the table, prompting her to speak. “Um, I guess I can.”

Spike stood up and offered his hand. “Come on, then. I don't bite... lately.”

Willow wrinkled her nose as she placed her hand in his. “That's not funny.”

“Sure it is.” They made their way out to the dance floor at the beginning of a slower song. “Sway or dance, Red?”

“I can follow pretty well, and I know a few steps.”

“Dance it is.” About thirty seconds into the dance, a grin spread over his face. “You're pretty good. Lots of Bar and Bat Mitzvahs when you were young?”

She rolled her eyes as she came up from a dip. “Tons. By the time mine came around, I was beginning to think my parents knew every Jewish family in California. After mine, I was sure of it.”

Spike chuckled. “How do they feel about you going to England?”

“Well, they don't know it's a witchy studies thing. They just think I'm going to explore around and play intellectual tourist. I hope I can get out enough to build a believable photo album.”

They stepped back from each other and close again. “Sure, you will. You're not going to prison, Red.”

“It feels like it, leaving Tara and everyone for a whole semester. The worst part is, I feel like I should go, even let Althenea lock me up if she has to. If Giles really thinks I'm in danger of going the way he went when he was young...” She shuddered. “I know he got to a pretty dark place. People died because he lost control of his magic, and he has to live with that. ...But then, look who I'm talking to. You wouldn't get it.”

Spike was slightly too slow in responding, and tried to cover it by focusing on his steps. But the pause caught her attention. “Maybe I do,” he murmured in the direction of his shoes.

Her eyes lit up with realization, but she managed to hide her surprise before he looked up again.

“It'll be worth it, Red. Make good use of the time. Get every bit of training and discipline you can get from those old birds, and come home a better witch, with no regrets.”

They danced in silence for a minute, while she turned some thoughts over in her head. Finally, she asked, “Will you still be here when I get back?”

“Where would I go?”

“You could go anywhere in the world, Spike. Spain, Los Angeles, Central America...”

Spike gave her another dip and stole a glance up at the catwalk, where Buffy and Giles were deep in conversation. “I'm not gonna leave her, if that's what you're asking.”

“Not even 'for her own good'? That was Angel's reasoning.”

He fought back the urge to growl. “What's better for her than having Big Bad watching her back?”

“I don't want to see her hurt, Spike. We may have drifted apart lately, but that doesn't mean I don't care about her. I'm just not sure what to say, and she doesn't say much at all. But she's still one of my best friends.”

“I know.” They stepped back from each other and came close again. “She still cares about you, too.”

“I know she does. She tried to give me all of Sunnydale -in travel size- for Hanukkah. But she's changed, and I don't know how to get through the walls around her.”

“Been there,” Spike mumbled as he gave Willow another spin.

“What did you say?” she asked when they were facing each other again.

“If we're lucky, this Glory thing will be over by the time you come home, and the slayer will be less stressed and distracted.”

“I hope so... But Spike, you're one of the walls, too.”

“You asking me to stay or get gone, Red? Make up your mind.”

“That's not what I meant. She talks to you. She's been getting closer to Anya and Tara, but you're the one who's replaced me. These days, she acts like you are her best friend.”

“Some days, maybe. But who's she gonna bitch about me to when I'm not? She still needs you.”

“I'm not so sure.”

*~*~*

Buffy brought two glasses up to the catwalk. She handed one to the man who was already standing there. “Scotch on the rocks. Top shelf.”

Giles accepted the glass. “Thank you. That wasn't necessary.”

She shrugged and sipped her rum and Coke. “I was at the bar, anyway.” She leaned on the railing and looked out across the dance floor below. “Do you remember the first time we ever stood up here?”

“Of course I do. I asked you to use your senses to locate any vampires present.”

“And I'm still not very good at it. I think I got a little gypped on that superpower.”

“How many can you sense right now?”

She closed her eyes. “Well, there's the signature I know better than I know my own name, below and about four yards in front of us... And that's all I got. Just the one.” She opened her eyes. “ The one who is dancing with Willow. Would you look at that!” She shook her head. “There was another signature hovering on the edge of my senses for a little while. It was weak, and I had trouble pinpointing the source until he got close.” She brushed at her dress. “I think I'm still wearing a little of him.”

“I'm not surprised you can easily identify Spike. He's around you so consistently. And if my math is correct, you've known him more than six years.”

“Something like that. I've kind of given up on the math. It gives me a headache.” Buffy fell silent for a moment, watching Spike and Willow dancing below. “Six years. It feels like a lifetime,” she whispered. “It's funny, our PTB handler gave us a memory boost to help us out, but I guess it doesn't cover emotions. I have trouble remembering how scared I was when I met him, and what it felt like the first time we fought, when he came so close to killing me.”

“That's a dangerous condition, Buffy. Fear is a slayer's best defense. It keeps you on your guard.”

“No,” she said quietly. “Trust is the best defense. It's misleading sometimes, but then, so is fear. Trust builds relationships, teams of people to help keep a slayer alive. I trust him, Giles, with my life. More importantly, I trust him with the lives of the people I love. A slayer is disposable--”

He sucked in a breath.

“It's ok. I accepted it a long time ago. But trustworthy people who will band together and risk their lives for the greater good, when they don't even have to? That's not disposable. That's the best kind of family a slayer could ask for.” Buffy gestured to the dance floor. “I trust him with her. And that trust isn't misplaced. I'd like to think what we're watching right now is her realizing it. I'd chain his ass up in the basement again if he was a danger to them, and he'd probably end up asking me to kill him. We've been there before.”

“That sounds like an interesting story.”

“I think I mentioned the First had Spike under some kind of mind control? Well, when things were really bad, he tried to talk me into dusting him, to protect the girls from him. And when it seemed like he was finally ok, and I wanted to take the chains off, he asked me not to. He wanted to be sure it was safe, that he wouldn't hurt any of them. That's the man you think is inhibiting my judgment.”

“The girls?”

“We had a houseful of Potentials at the time, refugees turned soldiers. And by houseful, I mean full. Between the girls, the Scoobies, and the few who were neither, the place was packed to the rafters. I eventually gave up on having a bedroom to call my own and moved down to the basement with Spike.”

“No wonder you're so comfortable down there.”

She shook her head. “It wasn't like it is now. Now, it's a bedroom. Then, it was a cell. Chains and shackles on the wall, a camp cot, my alarm clock on the floor, and not much else.”

“And yet you speak of it as though you miss it. You seem almost homesick.”

“I miss some things,” she whispered, taking another sip of her drink. “Stupid, little stuff. Waking up to the kitchen swarming with people. Drill Sergeant Kennedy shouting in the backyard. The look on Vi's face when Spike would get the jump on her in training. Rona catching us sneaking out for Thai food after we brought them home from patrol. Dawnie being mature enough to be mad at me quietly, but still make her point. Andrew, driving us all crazy with his video camera, looking for happy endings and hero stories in a place and time where they didn't exist.” Buffy's eyes drifted back to Spike with a smile. “Andrew would have paid to film this night. He'd be on his third camera battery by now.”

He followed her gaze. “The reliable supporter you said I conspired against ...was Spike, wasn't it?”

“My loyal lieutenant,” she said, her voice still low. “The only person who had my back, no matter what. He kept me alive, Giles, kept me from curling into a ball and letting the First walk all over me. Every general should have someone just like him. It's the only way to survive the battles when you already know you're going to lose the war.”

Giles sipped his Scotch. “You said hero stories didn't exist then. You just told me one.”

“There are a lot more stories with no heroes at all.” She finally turned to look at him. “Like you and Robin trying to take out my lieutenant when I needed him most.”

“And who was Robin?”

“Nikki Wood's son.”

Giles immediately made the connection. “He was looking for revenge?”

“He was being stupid! Nikki went out like a slayer should: Clean and simple, a straight fight with a demon worthy of taking a slayer. She and I are among the lucky ones. We got taken out by badass Aurelians on a mission, not by nameless fledges who happened to have a good day. Robin may have been raised by a watcher, but he didn't still get it.”

“He didn't understand that Spike had reformed.”
“My point is that it shouldn't have mattered. She was a slayer. She ran into an annoyingly tenacious master vamp with a slayer fixation when she'd already reached the death wish stage. It ended predictably. It really is that simple. I've been there. I know. Once you reach that point, the only question left is 'when.' Robin didn't get it, and couldn't move past it.”

“I've never spoken to you about that, about slayers tending to develop the urge to... let go.”

“No, but Mr. Annoyingly Tenacious has had some watcherly moments over the years. He figured out I'd reached that stage before you did.” Buffy shrugged. “He'd seen it before with Nikki.”

“So what happened to her son?”

“He tried to get his revenge on Spike, in a pretty underhanded way. Spike beat the hell out of him for it, even gave him a nice bite scar, but wouldn't kill him. I nearly finished the job myself, I was so pissed off at Robin for chasing a vendetta in the middle of a war.” She took a deep breath. “You helped him plan it, and were in charge of keeping me from stopping it. That night was the final straw with you and me. There was a lot leading up to it, but trying to kill my lieutenant, my lifeline, and telling me it was for my own good? I couldn't forgive that. I still can't.”

“You almost talk like you're still that war. Maybe that's why you can't let go of those events.”

“We are still in that war, Giles. We're taking a different tack, going the preventative route, but we're still in it. ...And I think we might finally stand a chance of winning it.”

Giles studied her eyes, shining not with the glee of a young woman at a fun party, but with the rising hope of a seasoned veteran, seeing tides of battle begin to turn. “I'd like to ask you something, General. Do you need this soldier in your ranks?”

“You're thinking of going home to Bath.” It was stated as a simple, emotionless fact.

“I gave my word to a certain lieutenant that I wouldn't go if you needed me.”

Buffy smiled. “See? I told you he was always watching my back.” The smile faded. “No. I don't need you. But I think you should stay.” She gestured to her friends below. “They need you. Do you think Willow would have agreed to go to Devon without your input? Do you think Anya is in any condition to run the shop by herself right now? Do you think Xan invited you tonight out of politeness? No. He wanted you here. This is your family, Giles. They need you. They want you around.”

“And you?”

“I'd love to fix things between us, but I'm not sure we even can. The older you broke the faith, and the repercussions rippled back through time on my memories. I can't have a soldier I don't trust to walk behind my lieutenant, whose advice is suspect. I had to allow it before, a little. But I'm not that desperate anymore. I think... I think our relationship is still a casualty of that war, one of the costs of making this trip back. …Magic always has consequences, and the piper must be paid.”

“I planned to escort Willow to Devon, to get her settled in.”

“You didn't buy a round trip ticket, did you?”

Giles shook his head. “I had every intention of talking to you before leaving. I just didn't expect it to be tonight. You may think me an untrustworthy git, Buffy, but I keep my word.”

“Then make one more promise,” she whispered. “Remember the feelings I've forgotten. Remember what it was like, when you were the person who always had my back.”

“I will.” Giles drew her into a hug. “Dear girl. I never wanted to disappoint you.”

She swallowed hard, then pulled out of the hug, her ability to make eye contact with him failing again.

“If you find you need me, I'm a phone call away. Althenea--”

“Will teleport you in an emergency. I know.”

“When you're ready to start dropping your war baggage, Buffy...”

“I'll let you know.”

She watched him go down the spiral stairs, headed for the exit, before she followed him down. She turned away from the Scoobies' table as she neared it, but intentionally caught Spike's eye. He excused himself and went in the same direction, finding her near the far end of the bar, leaning against a pillar, waiting on him. He took one look at the familiar expression and pulled her into his arms.

“When's he going?”

“With Willow. One way ticket.”

“Was too much to hope for, wasn't it? One perfect night?”

She sniffled against his shoulder. “I knew it was too close to my birthday. Only this time, I'm the monster who ruined it.”

“No, you didn't.”

“I did.” She pulled away from him. “I finally told him the story. He knows why I don't trust him.”

“Crosses on the walls?”

She nodded.

He studied her as she tried to regain her composure. “Wanna go find something to kill?”

“I'd ruin my dress.”

“Alright, we'll find something to do that gets you out of the dress, then.”

She wiped her eyes. “Spike!”

“Love, there are some traditions you really should respect.” He leaned in close to whisper in her ear, “Come on, Slayer. You know you wanna dance.”

He could tell by the way she grabbed his hand that he would get his way.





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