Giles frowned down his nose at the Marquis, presenting his best Watcher's facade of aloof British reserve. It was bad enough to have Spike hounding after him, constantly pestering him for updates on the Buffy situation. At least Spike was souled, and had proven his usefulness on occasion. He was a compatriot, of sorts, and though misguided at the best of times, one couldn't help but believe he would willingly lay down his life for Buffy were it asked of him.

The Marquis was another story entirely. Yet here the vampire was, presuming to ask after Buffy as though he and she shared a connection that entitled him to answers, as though the Provisional head of the Watcher's Council was no more than his message boy.

What was it about his Slayer that drew vampires, souled and unsouled alike, to her?

He shook his head. Not his Slayer. Lindsey's. His lip curled, but the Marquis took it as disdain for himself. That was fine by Giles.

"It is only that I worry, Monsieur." Roland lifted his tumbler of scotch and took a delicate sip. "Buffy, she has not been seen for much time, and I miss our little… tête-à-têtes."

In the corner of Giles' office, Spike glowered. Slouched in an armchair, eyes flashing amber and a sullen pout pulling at the corners of his mouth, the coiled tension in the vampire's limbs screamed barely-restrained violence. Spike was a hairsbreadth away from launching himself at The Marquis despite Giles' earlier entreaties for him to remain calm throughout the meeting if he wished to be a party to it.

As he was not particularly interested in witnessing an all-out vampire brawl this morning, Giles felt it best to hurry Roland on his way. The vampire had no information to impart, only questions of his own, which made this meeting pointless in his estimation.

"Buffy has been otherwise occupied these past weeks," he said. "The situation in Los Angeles requires her extended attention. I'm afraid she simply has not yet had the opportunity to return home."

The Marquis considered this over his drink. He crossed his legs at the ankles, and plucked at the fabric of his elegant trousers. "London has not been the same without ma p'tit cherie's company," he said at last. He knocked back the remains of his scotch and stood. "Mademoiselle Summers very much enlivens my otherwise dull nights. Please convey to her my regards, and my sincere wish for her speedy return."

Giles stood as well, shooting a warning glance Spike's way when the low growl emanating from the corner became audible to his human ears. "I am sure Buffy will be pleased to hear of your concern."

"Monsieur Giles," Roland said, with a slight bow. He turned in Spike's direction, and inclined his head again. "Monsieur William. It is always a pleasure."

Spike muttered something rude, which the Marquis ignored.

As soon as he'd taken his leave, Spike leapt to his feet, a bundle of nervous, angry energy. "Don't know why you even gave that ruffled ponce the time of day! Clearly he was lying out of his frilly arse about him and Buffy. Little tête-à-têtes," he scoffed. "Please."

Giles rolled his eyes. "Yes, because Buffy has never before become enamored of a handsome, centuries-old vampire with a mysterious past and questionable loyalties."

Spike pulled up short, affronted. "Vampire? Excuse me. That's not a vampire, that's a prancing peacock with fangs. A mincing French frog. A –"

"Unfortunate though it is, we can't all have your illustrious past, William the Bloody."

Glowering sullenly, Spike chose to ignore his pointed dig. "Waste of bloody time, is all I'm saying. Wanker didn't know anything."

"I concur." Giles flipped through a dossier. "Nonetheless, the Marquis has global connections, and, however slim, there was a possibility he had information to offer. I felt it wise to grant him an interview. If you recall, Spike, you agreed with my assessment."

"Because we've obviously hit the bottom of the desperation barrel."

Giles leaned back in his leather swivel chair, steepled fingers massaging his temples. He had to admit Spike wasn't far off the mark. The search for Buffy had ground to a standstill within days of her email, and following desperate leads seemed all they'd done since then.

It had been a simple task for Willow to discover the provenance of the email: a cyber café in a small town near the California-Arizona border. Photo of Buffy in hand, Spike and Dawn had gone to question the staff. They'd confirmed Buffy had been there four days earlier, along with a man who matched Lindsey's description. Willow had come through a second time, locating a graduation photo of Lindsey online, courtesy of his law school alumni association. Though the manager had verified Lindsey as her companion, Spike had wanted to be certain.

It was when he'd reviewed the security footage that things had gotten interesting, for lack of a better word.

Neither Buffy nor the man in question had appeared on the tapes. No matter how many times they reviewed the footage, or how many times the manager checked to make sure they had the correct tape, the computer where Buffy had sat appeared unoccupied, as did the table Lindsey had used. And while the manager had confirmed that Lindsey was once again tattooed – across his chest and up and down his arms, man – Buffy's tank top and short shorts had revealed no tattoos the manager could recall.

It made no sense.

The trail, such as it was, had gone cold after that. Giles could feel the familiar frustration mounting, creeping up his spine and settling into a pounding drumbeat in his temples, and Spike's agitated pacing did little to help.

"Look," Spike said. "Dawn's 'bout done with her end-of-year exams. I'll take her back stateside, see what we can sniff up between the two of us. Going to be easier to find Buffy if we're at least on the same continent, don't you think?"

"I'm not sure how, after all this time –"

"It's barely been a month. You've got all the resources of the Watcher's Council at your fingertips! Why not put them to good use?"

Giles frowned. "We have far more pressing matters to spend our time and money on, Spike. Evil never rests, as well you should know, and while I would like to locate Buffy as much as you, may I remind you she chose to leave? She is aware of Lindsey's true nature, and went with him willingly." Perhaps Spike had not yet grasped the defection implicit in Buffy's actions – she'd chosen a liar and an impersonator over her true Watcher, over her friends and family – but Giles had.

"We don't know that she went willingly –"

"I understand this is hard on you. It's hard on all of us."

"It's hard on Dawn," Spike said. "She asked me to help find her sister, but so far all I've done is lollygag about this place, cooling my heels and paying court to Eurotrash vampires. I'm no good to Buffy here."

"Then why are you here?"

"Dawn asked it. Wanted me here while she finishes her summer term. And don't give me any bollocks about not having the resources to chase Buffy down. I'm all the resources you need, so long as you give me some spending cash to keep Dawn fed and housed."

Giles sighed. "When Dawn is finished with her term, we can discuss some sort of fact-finding mission for the two of you." If only to get Spike out of his hair. He supposed he ought to be thankful Spike had at least convinced Dawn to sit for her exams in the first place. The younger Summers had been quite resistant to finishing out the school year, until Spike had stepped in. Giles didn't know what Spike had said to get Dawn back to England, and he didn't care, so long as he no longer had to argue with the teen.

He flipped open his dossier. "Now that the visit from the Marquis is concluded, I have paperwork to attend to…"

Spike didn't take the hint. He flopped into the chair across from Giles, booted foot tapping a staccato beat against the chair leg. "We must have missed something. If Lindsey's tattooed again, she must've been as well. It's the only thing that makes sense.'

"Not according to the café staff, but it is possible…"

"Why else wouldn't she show up?"

Rubbing at his temples once more, Giles said, "Considering the way locator spells have failed to work on Buffy for the past year, perhaps her – er – invisibility on tape is simply another side effect of whatever is the cause of the other abnormalities."

"Like the amnesia?" Spike leapt to his feet, pacing the confines of the room. His agitated back and forth made Giles dizzy. Giles closed his eyes, but it did nothing to shut out the sound of the vampire's voice. "Can't figure how that's lasted so long. Even with head trauma, the girl's got Slayer super-healing power. The amnesia's got to be mystical. A spell, or some such."

"Indeed," he said, eyes still closed. It was ground they'd covered before. Repeatedly.

"With the combined forces of the Superfriends on it these past months, how is it you lot didn't crack the case?"

He removed his glasses, and pinched the bridge of his nose. Had he thought of Spike as a compatriot only minutes ago? Clearly he was losing his sanity. "You do realize Buffy's amnesia is not the only issue we've faced this past year? The Watcher's Council was destroyed, there are Slayers to be found and trained the world over, and while the First Evil may have been forced to take a backseat for the time being, demonic activity in general has stepped up its game since then."

Giles had been planning to retire last year. He'd been looking forward to spending his time in the country, working on his memoirs. Instead, the bloody Watcher's Council had gotten itself blown up, and he'd been left to pick up the pieces in a non-stop race against the forces of darkness, with only the likes of Andrew to aid him.

If he were to be honest with himself, no, Buffy had not been his top priority. She was alive, she was safe.

And she was no longer his one and only responsibility. A path she'd chosen for herself, he might add.

"We have had so much to do…" he said tiredly. "And there are so many Slayers, all of whom are now in my care."

Spike, it seemed, had picked up on Giles' unspoken resentment. He opened his eyes to find the vampire staring at him with that hateful, knowing smirk.

"Oh, I see how it is. Still rankles, does it? Buffy chose another path than yours, twice now. She moved on from you. And now she's all disconnected and discombobulated, an' it's easier this way. You can pretend the distance between you is the amnesia's fault, not yours. Meanwhile, you've got all these younger, fresher models hanging on your every word, the way she used to."

His spine stiffened. "You have no idea what you're talking about."

"Don't I? Girl's supposed to be like a daughter to you, but you're not out there doing everything you can to help her. Not the way you once would've."

If he reached for his crossbow, would anybody, other than Dawn, truly care? Giles hadn't forgotten how Buffy had stayed behind, in the Hellmouth, with Spike. How, had she left with the others rather than fuss over him, she would've made it onto the bus and sped away, memories intact. And yet this vampire, who was at least partially responsible for Buffy's memory loss, had the gall to drag his failures into the light of day and lay them out for inspection.

Indignation refused to make more than a half-hearted appearance. The blasted little berk had right of it. Insufferable twat.

If only his father had let him be a grocer. His life would've been so much simpler.

Giles liberated a more-than-decorous amount of scotch into his tumbler, and swallowed far too quickly to appreciate it properly. It burned its way down his gullet.

"Did you know," he said slowly, turning the glass in his hands and watching the remaining amber drops of fluid spin within, "the Council fired me for being too close to Buffy? They were quite right to do so. I knowingly put her safety, her well-being, ahead of the world's. The Council understood the perils of such deep-seated affection. Had she perished, I would've been useless – did become useless. After she died…"

He shook his head, and poured himself another drink. Spike snatched the bottle from him to pour one of his own, then retook his seat, slouching into it with boneless grace.

"But I considered the risks acceptable. When one Watcher failed, there was another to take his or her place. To carry on. Now, who would replace me? Andrew? No, I think not." Leaning forward, Giles looked the vampire in the eye, willing him to understand. Despite behavior to the contrary, Spike was no idiotic adolescent. "I am responsible for thousands of Slayers, for millions of lives. I cannot allow my feelings for Buffy… it is better to remain disconnected, as you say. To keep a distance."

He gulped his scotch and set the glass on the table, feeling the heat in his cheeks rise in time with the burn in his gut. Logical or not, once the words were out of his mouth, Giles recognized them for the excuse they were.

Spike cocked his head. "That what you tell yourself? That how you sleep at night?"

A bitter laugh escaped before Giles could stop himself. "Whatever makes you so certain I sleep?"


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