DISCLAIMER: The Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel characters are the property of Mutant Enemy, Joss Whedon, and Fox Studios. The story contents are the creation and property of Djinn and are copyright (c) 2001 by Djinn. This story is Rated PG-13.

Gravity

Part 5 - Revulsion

by Djinn

 

"Come on, put your back into it. A Watcher scoffs at gravity." Giles to Spike, Restless

 

The silence in the living room was absolute. Spike and Dawn both slumped in defeat. Giles looked pensive.

 

Willow stood in the doorway next to Faith. The other slayer didn't make a comment, but her meaning as her eyes met Willow's then looked upward was unmistakable.

 

"I'll talk to her," the witch said.

 

She climbed the stairs slowly, trying to imagine how hard, how strange this must seem to Buffy. She knocked on the door of her friend's bedroom. "Buffy? Please let me in."

 

A few seconds passed before she heard the handle being turned. Buffy stood in the doorway. Her eyes were dry, her face tight. She walked to the bed, sat down, and stared out the window. Her look was distant.

 

Willow closed the door softly. "This all must seem pretty strange, " she said, as she sat down next to the slayer.

 

Buffy only nodded.

 

"You've been gone for months, Buff. Getting you back was our main focus, but I guess our lives really did go on."

 

"They had to. I was dead," Buffy agreed reasonably, then her voice became tight, "It just seems like some pretty strange choices were made."

 

"I bet things do look really weird from where you're standing. But if you just give it a chance, most of it does make sense."

 

"Spike as watcher makes sense?" Buffy turned to look directly at Willow, her eyes hard. "Faith out of jail, living in Sunnydale again, makes sense?"

 

"The council got Faith out. They had to when they couldn't find the next slayer."

 

"But Dawn?"

 

"Dawn ran away, Buffy. Your dad wanted to move her to Spain. She didn't want to go."

 

Buffy's look was haunted. "She was all alone?"

 

"No. Spike was with her. He protected her. They didn't know she was the slayer when they left, and once they figured it out, they came back. I know it must seem weird, but he's been doing the right thing by her. Just like you asked him to. And Dawn loves him. It was her choice to have him for her watcher."

 

"It doesn't make sense, Willow. It's Spike for god's sake."

 

Willow found herself getting defensive. "Yeah. Spike who helped us beat Glory. Spike who has been tireless in looking after Dawn and in trying to find a way to bring you back. People do change, Buffy."

 

The slayer's look hardened even more. "I suppose you're going to tell me that Faith has changed too?"

 

Willow felt conflicted. "You know I've never liked her. I can't say that I feel all warm and fuzzy toward her. But she's done a good job since she's been back. And I think she really cares about Dawn."

 

Buffy's scorn was obvious. "Yes, I'm sure she's just the best role model ever."

 

"Dawn likes her."

 

"Well Dawn seems to have a soft spot for psychopaths." Buffy seemed too full of energy. She jumped up, began to pace. "I'm surprised you didn't invite Drusilla in too, you know for fashion tips or something."

 

"Buffy that's not fair. I know things may look kind of..." she searched for the word, "unconventional. But we've been doing the best that we can." Willow was getting dizzy watching Buffy pace. She rose and stepped into her path, forcing her to stop. "I've missed you so much. Dawn has been miserable. And Giles seemed to lose all purpose when you died."

 

Buffy laughed spitefully. "He seems to have recovered nicely since then. Maybe having Faith around does that? I take it he's her watcher now?"

 

"Yeah," Willow said carefully, feeling as if she was navigating a landmine.

 

"Just her watcher?" Buffy asked in a low voice.

 

"Well. Um."

 

"My god, Will. What the hell is wrong with all of you? Spike lives in my house, practically has custody of my little sister. Faith and Giles are...god I don't even know the word for what they are."

 

"Try lovers." Willow felt her own temper rise.

 

"Lovers," Buffy spat the word at her. "As in to love? Faith isn't capable. Have you forgotten what she's like?"

 

"Don't make me defend her to you. Buffy, you have to relax. You have to accept. At least until you understand what's happened."

 

"I don't have to do anything. Now leave me alone." She started to walk back to the window, then whirled on Willow. "Why did you even call me back? Seems like everything was just hunky dory here."

 

Willow couldn't answer.

 

"The ironic thing is I had just given up when you caught me. And I was ok with that. I was at peace. Finally."

 

Willow exploded, "Don't pull that crap! If you were so peaceful why'd you haunt Faith and Dawn's dreams all those weeks? You nearly destroyed Dawn and you're lecturing me about how we've handled things?" Willow wanted to stop but months of fear and grief were pushing her on. "I'm not sure why we bothered getting you back. You're unforgiving and hard and you don't care that we were all left with nothing when you died." Willow's voice cracked. "We were left with nothing except a scared little girl and the memories of how we failed you that night. How we lost you."

 

She couldn't go on. She felt tears she hadn't cried for weeks burst from her. She couldn't see, couldn't talk for the great heaving sobs that tore from her body. She had never felt more alone. Blindly she turned toward the door.

 

Strong, slim arms stopped her, wrapped around her. "Oh god, Willow. I'm so sorry."

 

Willow heard her friend crying too. She brought her own arms up, completing the embrace. They stood there for a long time, both weeping out a pain too dark to keep inside any longer.

 

-------------------------------

 

Giles stood in the hall, unsure of his next move. It had become very quiet in Buffy's room. He hoped Willow was making progress. He reached for the knob, then pulled back. Should he wait, he wondered.

 

But then he thought of the unbelievable joy he had felt when he had seen Buffy on the stairs. He had to share that with her. She mustn't think that he was anything but ecstatic at her return.

 

He knocked softly on the door, opened it when he heard Buffy give permission. The two young women were sitting on the bed, looking just as they had so many other times. He could tell that they had both been crying.

 

"I've just been catching her up," Willow explained as she rose to leave.

 

He waited until the door closed before he opened his arms to Buffy.

 

"You sure there's room in there? I hear you've already got your hands full with one slayer." Her voice wasn't mean exactly. But it was clear that she was putting him on notice that she knew and didn't approve of his relationship with Faith.

 

He wanted to defend himself and the other slayer, but decided on another tack. "She's willing to share. Aren't you?"

 

It was the wrong thing to say.

 

"I find I'm not," Buffy said coldly.

 

He dropped his arms. The moment was gone. "I've missed you," he said quietly.

 

"Yeah. I see that."

 

His lips tightened as he tried to hide the disappointment that knifed through him.

 

"So am I still the slayer, Giles? Or do Faith and Dawn have that gig pretty well wrapped up?"

 

This was something he'd given a great deal of thought to in the last few weeks. "I think that is up to you."

 

"If this is a lecture about my attitude, save it."

 

"I only mean that nobody knows you're alive but those of us who are here tonight. If you want to reclaim your old life we'll find a way to explain it."

 

She seemed to relax.

 

"But if you don't," he continued carefully, "if you want a different kind of life. That can be arranged too. You could have the life your mother wanted for you. College, a new town, a normal job, maybe a husband and children some day. Whatever you wanted. A new start. Free of the slaying. It's something I always wanted for you but never had it in my power to give. Until now."

 

She stared at him. Her expression hadn't changed. "So you brought me back just to send me away?"

 

"That's not the spin I'd put on what I just said, Buffy."

 

"I guess not. What about Dawn?"

 

"Dawn is a slayer now. She can't escape her destiny any more than you could. But she'll be all right..." he trailed off; aware he was straying into dangerous territory.

 

"Oh, of course. She'll be ok because she has the poster child for violence as her new big sister and a serial killer for a mentor." Buffy's voice was ugly now.

 

"Spike has been working with us for some time. You yourself asked him to look after Dawn if anything happened to you. And as for Faith, well she has changed, and if you'd give her a chance, you'd see that."

 

"I gave her plenty of chances, long ago. Look where it got me." She walked to the closet, dug out a large bag, pulled several stakes from it.

 

"Buffy, you can't be seriously considering..."

 

She turned to him, her expression grim. "Thanks for the offer, Giles, and the pretty speech, but I know who I am and where I belong. It may be the only thing I do know anymore." She saw his disapproval, met his gaze defiantly. "I'm still the slayer."

 

"Buffy?" He reached out for her. Her glare made him drop his arm.

 

She seemed to consider the door, then said, "Screw it," and opened the window. Just before climbing out she shot him a sarcastic smile. "Hey, maybe I'll get killed again and all of our problems will be solved."

 

"Buffy..." he began, but she was gone.

 

The others looked up as he rushed downstairs.

 

"She's gone out. Patrolling."

 

They didn't ask anything else. He felt pride in them as they grabbed their coats and weapons. He saw that Tara had not made a move.

 

"I'll stay here with Amy," she said calmly. "That way there will be someone home if Buffy comes back before you find her."

 

"Thank you," he answered quietly.

 

She nodded. In her eyes he saw infinite compassion.

 

"Right then. Let's go." He followed the others out into the night.

 

-------------------------------

 

Buffy hit the ground and took off running. She headed nowhere in particular, letting her instincts drive her where she was needed. As she ran, she reveled in the smooth movement of her legs, the powerful thing that was her body. As she finally slowed, she felt some of the tension leave her body. She put her head back and let the night wind blow across her face.

 

"Such a pretty sight," a voice sounded behind her.

 

Buffy turned, pretending to be frightened. "Leave me alone."

 

"I don't think so, little one." The vampire moved closer.

 

She didn't recognize him, then had to remind herself that she hadn't exactly been keeping up with all the potential new vamps.

 

"I'm very hungry and you look delicious," he licked his lips. His face transformed as he moved on her.

 

Suddenly bored with the game, Buffy whipped out a stake and slammed it home. At the vampire's look of shock she hissed, "Amateur."

 

She brushed the dust off her clothes and kept moving. She still didn't know where exactly she was headed as she roamed through Sunnydale, reacquainting herself with the town she considered her own. She passed the Magic Box and the Espresso Pump. Saw where her mother's gallery had been. It has been turned into a craft boutique.

 

Mom, she thought, trying to ignore the pain she felt. How could you leave us? How could you leave me?

 

She passed the theater and the sporting goods store. Noticed a new wine shop and a bookstore had gone in next door. She heard music--loud, hard--the Bronze. She smiled, tempted to go in. Later, she thought. Some other day.

 

She began to walk faster. Her steps sure even if she wasn't certain where her legs were taking her. A few minutes later she understood. The gravestone was nice, she thought, and it was in a pretty spot. Peaceful. She sank down on the grass.

 

Am I still down there, she wondered. Molding? Decaying? If I start digging will I come face to face with my corpse? With the me that should have been?

 

She pushed herself to her feet, suddenly wanting to be anywhere but near her own grave. She began to run again, going ever faster as she tried to outpace a nervousness, an anger, that seemed ready to consume her. She felt volatile. About to explode. Ready to burn.

 

She ran faster. Turned and headed into the woods, deeper and deeper into the trees. Past the entrance to Adam's cave, past the places they had looked for Oz, past all the memories. It took a long time to find a spot she'd never been before. It was dark and quiet and she crouched down and closed her eyes.

 

What would it be like, she wondered, to start over? To not have to be the slayer? To not kill every night? The thought of starting over tempted her more than she would ever admit. She allowed her mind to play, to run down all the roads she would never travel. She was a firefighter, a charity worker, a doctor, a chef, a lawyer, a mother. Her fantasies stopped.

 

She cried out, unable to keep the grief at bay. Mom, I can't do this all again. Not without you. Her tears fell hot and furious. Mom, she silently screamed to the night sky, don't leave me.

 

She collapsed, head on the ground, hands clenched into fists that beat on the ground. A scared little girl weeping for everything she had lost.

 

-------------------------------

 

Searching together was getting them nowhere. Dawn felt the beginning of panic.

 

Spike moved closer. "Don't worry, pet. We'll find her."

 

"We've been out here for hours now. Where did she go?"

 

Faith had slowed her pace to let them catch up. "She's here somewhere. She didn't come out here to run away, she came out to kill something."

 

"I don't know, we've passed three vamps so far," Spike noted, "and aside from about having heart attacks at the sight of our little search party, I don't think they were feeling any pain."

 

Faith glared at him. "We passed three of them and you didn't say anything?"

 

"Didn't want to distract you two from the search. They were completely second tier anyway. One of you'll stake them eventually, don't worry."

 

Faith rolled her eyes. "I could have used a good slaying. All this magic makes me itchy."

 

Dawn realized she too felt wound very tight, as if the tension were a snake coiled inside her. "I wouldn't mind killing something about now," she admitted.

 

Spike looked at both of them, then gave a low chuckle. "Yeah, well next time I see a vamp, I'll point you its way."

 

Dawn saw Giles stop. He seemed more than just frustrated. He actually appeared frantic. She couldn't remember ever seeing him anything but unflappable. "Damn," he swore softly.

 

"Maybe we should split up?" Dawn suggested.

 

Giles looked at her as if seeing her for the first time. "Yes. Good idea. Dawn and Spike will take the cemeteries. Faith and I will cover the warehouse district and the waterfront. Willow, you take Xander and Anya and check out the rest of downtown."

 

"Be careful," Dawn whispered to Faith.

 

"You too. And watch out for him," Faith nodded toward Spike. "Buffy's freaked by his role in all of this."

 

"And yours too."

 

"Yeah, but I'm not sporting a chip now am I?"

 

Dawn realized what she was saying. "Good point." She hurried to catch up with her watcher.

 

They walked for a few minutes, then Spike glanced at her. "Were you serious about needing to slay?"

 

Dawn nodded. She looked around, saw a recently disturbed grave.

 

Spike pointed, "I think you'll find the former occupant in that clump of trees there."

 

She was off, her instincts telling her to go slow, the anxiety urging her to do it fast. Her instincts won. She crept through the trees; saw the vampire long before he saw her.

 

He turned, a great lumbering move. "Food," he said harshly.

 

"You guys just really aren't very smooth when you first wake up, are you?" She pulled out a stake.

 

The vampire growled and came for her.

 

"Whoa, and talk about morning breath. Mouthwash," she said as she kicked him hard, "Embrace the concept."

 

He parried a jab from her, but his next swing left him open. The stake was a blur as it came down and obliterated him.

 

"Dust to dust," she said as she walked back to Spike.

 

"Feel better?"

 

She did. Slightly. "Yeah. Thanks."

 

They continued on, searching for Buffy in silence. Finally at her headstone, Dawn sat down.

 

"Something wrong?"

 

She looked away. "I don't understand what's happening. Why is she so upset?"

 

He walked over, ran his hand down her hair. "I don't know. Maybe because of the portal?"

 

"Or maybe because she's just a total bee-otch?"

 

He laughed. "Maybe."

 

"She didn't even try the cookies. They're the ones Mom used to make for her. She could have at least tried them."

 

He didn't say anything, just stared at the marker.

 

"Does she hate me, Spike? Is that why she's so mad? I mean if I hadn't come, she wouldn't have had to deal with half the stuff that happened this year."

 

"She loves you, Dawn. That much I do know."

 

"Then why is she so mad?"

 

"Don't imagine she liked seeing me so involved in your life."

 

"But she asked you to take care of me."

 

He gave a short laugh. "I think she meant that I was to look out for you from a distance. Not from the basement."

 

"Oh," she said sullenly.

 

"It doesn't help that Faith is here. Teaching you. Shagging Giles."

 

"Why should that bother her?"

 

"People get territorial about those they love. She doesn't want Faith near Giles, even if Buffy doesn't have the same kind of feelings for him."

 

"Hmmm," she couldn't keep the worry out of her voice. "Spike, how mad you think she's gonna be when she finds out I've been borrowing her clothes?"

 

"I imagine..." he trailed off.

 

They both heard the sound. Footsteps.

 

It was Buffy. Her eyes were puffy and red. She had twigs in her hair, and dead leaves on her pants.

 

"Buffy!" Dawn wanted to run to her sister, but something in Buffy's eyes stopped her. "Buffy, are you all right?"

 

Buffy stared at Spike for a long time, then she seemed to reach a decision. Her hand drew out a stake. She advanced on him.

 

"Buffy. What in bloody hell do you think you're doing." He dodged a sharp thrust. A roundhouse kick sent him sprawling.

 

"Spike!" Dawn was already in motion as she saw Spike jump back to his feet and try to block Buffy. He took a swing and bent double in agony. The stake streaked down.

 

"No!" she screamed, putting everything she had into the last few steps. She ended up under the stake. Used her own momentum to carry it down and away from Spike. It landed hard against her thigh, the point burning a hole in her leg. She yelped as she pulled it out. Blood flowed freely.

 

"Dawn?" Buffy said brokenly.

 

"If you try to hurt him I'll stop you."

 

Buffy moved around her, already reaching for another stake. "It's for your own good."

 

"No," Dawn said, moving quickly after her sister. The pain in her thigh was already diminishing. "No," she repeated more firmly as she placed herself between Buffy and her watcher. "Don't make me fight you."

 

The attack when it came was fast and furious. But Dawn could tell that Buffy was holding back, trying not to hurt her. She felt no such compunction. All the anger she had felt at herself for letting Buffy die for her, at the fates for making her the next slayer, came out. She fought like a wild animal.

 

Buffy's eyes widened. She was no longer holding back. "Move aside, Dawn," the older slayer ordered.

 

"You'll have to go through me to get him. I love you, Buffy, but I won't let you hurt him."

 

Buffy attacked again. Dawn kept her at bay. But the blows were starting to tell on her. She looked over to see her older sister finally pulling away, bent over and breathing hard. Blood trickled down from a cut on her lip. Dawn knew she didn't look much better.

 

"Stop it, Buffy."

 

"Why, Dawn? Why Spike?"

 

Dawn looked over at Spike. He was watching her with concern. And irritation. She knew he hated the way the chip made him helpless against humans.

 

She smiled at him. Her sister wanted to know why Spike. She turned back to Buffy, saw that the fire had died in her eyes. Dawn walked to her, took her arm. Turned her toward home. She could hear Spike trailing behind them. "Because I love him. He was the only family I had for months. He took care of me. He taught me to fight, to slay. And he did all that because you asked him too, and because he loves me too." Dawn's voice turned menacing and very cold. "So let's get one thing straight, Buffy. If you ever try to hurt him again, you'll be the one in pain."

 

Buffy grunted. "I already am." She turned and studied Spike. "I'm sorry," she said finally.

 

He brushed past them, the image of wounded dignity. "Gonna take a whole lot more than a sorry to make up for this, Slayer."

 

Dawn could hear the hurt in his voice. She knew how much he loved Buffy. Really cared about her. The others sometimes teased him over this crush, but she never did. His love for her sister was real.

 

He disappeared into the shadows. Dawn tightened her grip on Buffy and the two limped home.

 

As they finally left the cemetery, Buffy glanced at her, seemed to see Dawn for the first time. Her eyes narrowed. "That so better not be my shirt."

 

Dawn gulped. "You were dead. I just borrowed a few things."

 

"Which things."

 

"Just the cute ones."

 

Her sister glared at her.

 

"Which would be like all of them," Dawn admitted.

 

Buffy rolled her eyes. "You are so lucky that I'm way too tired to get mad at you."

 

Her arm tightened around Dawn's waist, hitting a bruised rib and causing Dawn to hiss in pain. But she didn't pull away from her sister's embrace. She'd waited too long for this to let a little thing like pain get in the way.

 

-------------------------------

 

Spike stayed well ahead of the two slayers, but not so far away that he couldn't come to their aid if they got into trouble. Neither of them was in any shape to fight again tonight.

 

He pulled out his cigarettes, lit one and drew on it angrily. Buffy had wanted to kill him. He couldn't fight her and she had known that, had been going to stake him anyway. He felt betrayed. All he'd done for her, for the niblet, and she was going to put him down like a dog?

 

He could hear them talking behind him. So all was well with the Summers girls, eh? Well bloody good for them.

 

Dawn laughed, a silvery tinkle of sound. His anger faded for a moment and he smiled. She deserved to be happy. He had tried to give that back to her however he could. Some small measure of happiness, of normal life. He knew he was a poor substitute for her real family but she had seemed to respond. Hell, he knew she loved him. She had fought for him tonight. Gone up against her own sister just to save him. He loved her for it. And hated her. And he knew that she would understand both sentiments.

 

Buffy on the other hand, he thought bitterly, definitely woke up on the wrong side of the bloomin' portal. Couldn't forgive him and he wasn't even sure what he'd done to need forgiving for. Other than being there when she wasn't. Maybe that was it. She was jealous and feeling guilty and probably a hundred other emotions that she would never own up to. She was so closed. He'd watched her over the years become harder and harder. Till she'd evolved into the banshee he'd just seen in the cemetery. He wanted to believe that this was temporary, just a period of adjustment. But deep down, he was afraid that it wasn't that at all.

 

It was never easy when other people took your place. Made you do the crazy. When Angelus came back to Dru and him, at first he'd been happy but then all he'd felt was alone as the bastard had pushed him and his wheelchair to the corner and made merry with Dru. In reaction, Spike had done the unthinkable. Turned against his own kind and allied himself with a slayer, if only temporarily at the time. All to get back what had been his. Was Buffy willing to do the same now? Was that what was going on? If so, he and Faith had better watch their backs. Suddenly he didn't like the idea of sleeping two floors below the newly reborn slayer.

 

Was that it then? Was he a dead man? Dawn had warned her off, but what would she really do if Buffy killed him? What could she do? Certainly the Watcher's Council would be happy. But he suspected Giles wouldn't. And if Buffy threatened Faith? He thought of how Giles and Faith looked at each other. He suspected Giles hid a darker streak than any of them knew. That he'd do anything to protect Faith. Anything. Even kill Buffy. Which would make Giles darker than Spike, because the vampire knew that, even without a bloody chip in his head, he couldn't kill her. He loved her. And if that wasn't hell playing its best joke yet, he didn't know what was.

 

"Did you find her?" He heard Faith's voice coming up quick on his left.

 

"Oh yeah. Ms. Lazarus tried to stake me."

 

"What?" It was Giles, joining them.

 

"Said it would be better for Dawn." Spike lit another cigarette. "Little Bit fought her off though. Did a damn good job. They're just behind, limping home together."

 

Faith looked back.

 

"You don't want to interrupt them. Buffy won't like it."

 

She glared at him. "Screw Buffy. I'm worried about Dawn."

 

"Dawn's fine. It's you and me that should be nervous."

 

Her eyes met his. He could tell she knew exactly what he meant. They all started walking.

 

"Do you want to stay at my place?" Giles asked.

 

"You mean in the bathtub?"

 

"I rather thought the guest room. Faith isn't using it anymore."

 

Spike stared at Giles, amazed at the offer.

 

The other watcher shrugged. "I'd hate to lose your first-hand knowledge before I've finished my retrospective."

 

Spike laughed.

 

"And Buffy does seem a bit..."

 

"Unhinged," Faith finished for him. "Unstable, loony, psychotic. I could go on?"

 

"No need." His look was sad.

 

"I'm kind of an expert on being out there emotionally, Giles. B's on the ledge."

 

"She's been through a lot." Her watcher protested.

 

"Yeah. Well she needs to get over it," Faith said.

 

"With time she might. She hasn't even been back a day," Spike objected. "I've got to believe there's hope. You know?"

 

Giles nodded. "I do know. And you're right."

 

"I hope so. In the meantime, you and Faith should shove off. I think seeing you will be like spark to the tinder."

 

"You're not coming back with us?" Faith's face was a study in disbelief. "Are you nuts?"

 

"No. If I run now, I might as well never stop. I live in that house. I'm Dawn's watcher. It's time Buffy realized that."

 

"You're an idiot," Faith said adamantly.

 

"I prefer to think I'm an optimist," he countered. "But I guess if I'm not on this sodding planet tomorrow you'll know your opinion was the more accurate."

 

They were getting close to the house now. Giles pulled Faith away so Buffy wouldn't see them. "Good luck, Spike. Come over if you need to."

 

"I appreciate that." He waved jauntily to the watcher and slayer before bounding up the stairs. Faith watched him for a few moments before hurrying down the block with Giles.

 

"Buffy?" Willow rushed the door. "Oh. It's you."

 

"You know, that's probably the nicest greeting I've had tonight. Isn't that pathetic?" He saw the others waiting. "She and Dawn are just behind. And she's not in a good mood. I suggest those who don't live here might want to clear out."

 

Xander stood up. "I guess that's our cue."

 

Amy looked at Willow uncertainly.

 

The redhead went to her. "I know you want to go home, Amy. But you can't. Not till we figure out how to explain your being gone so long."

 

"I know," Amy's voice was very small. "I just really want to see my dad."

 

"And he really wants to see you too. And he will, very soon. Just not yet, ok?"

 

Amy nodded. "So I'm staying here?"

 

Xander nudged Anya. She turned to Amy. "We have a couch, it's not comfortable but it does have the benefit of having no angry slayers in the immediate vicinity. You can stay with us if you want. I mean, till we figure out how to get you home."

 

"Really?" Amy's face lit up. "That is so nice of you, Anya." She looked at the door nervously. "Can we go now?"

 

"Absolutely," Xander said, bustling them both out the back door.

 

Tara walked over to Spike. "What happened?"

 

"She tried to kill me," he headed for the stairs to the basement. "May try again later. If she succeeds, I want you two to know that I think you make a nice couple. Love's hard to find, so hold on to it."

 

"You're going to hide?"

 

He shook his head, felt anger fill him again. "No. Dammit. I'm going to sleep. Seemed to have missed some of that in all the excitement." He slammed out of the room just as the two slayers came in.

 

"Where's Spike?" he heard Buffy ask.

 

"Downstairs," Willow said, in a tone that seemed to imply that she thought he belonged there.

 

"Whatever." Footsteps crossed the room.

 

He lay down on his bed, didn't even take his coat off. He closed his eyes but the scene in the cemetery played over and over in his mind.

 

He listened as the sounds upstairs slowly ceased. The witches went to their room. He could hear Dawn telling Buffy to go to bed, the other slayer agreeing. Soon it was silent. He pictured them all asleep. Dead tired. Wrung out.

 

All except one. He could imagine Buffy rising from her bed. She would be in some whimsical pajama set completely at odds with the determination in her eyes, the stake in her hand. She would walk as quietly as she ever had out of the room, across the hall, down the stairs and around to the door to the basement. She would creep down the stairs stopping only at the bottom to make sure he was asleep.

 

Buffy walked in. It was too dark for a human to see what outfit she had on. Fortunately he wasn't human. She would kill him wearing sushi pajamas. He almost laughed out loud.

 

He reached over and turned on the light. She blinked rapidly, eyes trying to adjust, her body automatically taking a defensive pose.

 

"I'm not going to fight you."

 

"You can't fight me." Her tone was expressionless.

 

"Right. But I'm not even going to try to talk you out of it." He sat up, pulled a pillow up for a backrest. "Not going to beg for my life. Or tell you all the good I've done these past few months. Not going to remind you how it was you that told me to watch over her in the first place."

 

"Are you ever going to shut up?"

 

He looked at her eyes. "Don't you even care why I'm not going to fight?"

 

"Not really, no."

 

"Well, I'll tell you anyway."

 

"I can guess. You love me. And if you can't have me, you'd rather be dead."

 

He burst out laughing. "You really are a piece of work, Summers."

 

She took a step away from the bed, clearly taken aback. "Oh what? That wasn't the right answer?"

 

"Not even close." He grabbed a cigarette, lit it. Gesturing to the bed he said, "Have a seat and I'll explain it."

 

She sat gingerly. Her expression was the most normal he'd seen her wear all evening. "Ok. Explain it to me, Spike."

 

"Here's how I see it. You don't trust me but Dawn does. She trusts you too. That'll be confusing for her. We continue to fight, then she's going to have to choose sides. She gets distracted. And some night that could get her killed. I couldn't live with that. She needs to live. That means you and I can't be squabbling. But you don't seem inclined to see me as anything but the big bad. And hell, maybe that's what I really am. Who ever heard of a vampire watcher anyway?"

 

She didn't say anything.

 

"So, since you can't accept me, and I won't go away, one of us has to die. You've already died twice, which puts you one up on me. So I guess it's my turn. Once I'm gone, and Niblet gets over it, there'll be peace. And she'll be safe. And that's what really matters. For Dawn, I'll die." He blew out a ring of smoke. "But not for you, Buffy." He stubbed out the cigarette and stood up.

 

She scrambled up after him, stake poised.

 

"I told you. I wasn't going to fight. Do your bleeding worst, Buffy." And with that he stretched out his arms and closed his eyes. He could feel his coat fall away from his body, leaving the chest area of his shirt perfectly exposed. He felt the rush of air as she pulled back her arm. Heard the slight sound of the downward turn of the stake. Held his breath and forced himself to stay still as he waited for it to strike home.

 

The silence in the basement was shattered by the sound of a stake hitting the concrete floor.

 

He opened his eyes.

 

Buffy was breathing hard. There were angry tears in her eyes.

 

"I'm her watcher," Spike said firmly.

 

"Fine. You're her watcher." And she spun on her heel and was gone.

 

Spike waited till the basement door closed before he collapsed onto the bed. "Bloody hell," he cursed at himself, "that was an idiotic thing to do."

 

He lay back on the bed and smiled. It may have been stupid, but it had been the only thing to do. He began to chuckle, then to laugh outright. It helped him work out the nerves as he replayed the scene in his head. Finally, exhausted in mind and body, he closed his eyes and slept.

 

-------------------------------

 

It was a quiet walk home. Faith kept thinking about Spike. Wondered at the bravery or foolhardiness that made him go back to the house.

 

She followed Giles into the courtyard, waited as he unlocked the door. She walked past him into the apartment.

 

He turned on the light. Just stood for a moment, staring down, eyes unfocused.

 

She stared at him. Saw the disappointment he no longer tried to hide.

 

He looked up to meet her eyes. "She hates me," he said matter-of-factly.

 

"No. She hates me. You're just guilty by association. If I were gone, she'd probably forgive you in a second."

 

He seemed to consider that as he walked past her and headed into the kitchen. He poured himself a drink, sipped at it slowly. Finally he looked up at her. "That's true, isn't it?" he asked, as if he were finally realizing the consequences of his choice.

 

She felt something rise in her. A need to protect herself. She grabbed her coat.

 

He was on her before she could open the door. His eyes were wilder than she'd ever seen them.

 

"Giles?"

 

He kissed her hard, pushing her up against the door. She almost panicked before she realized he wasn't hurting her despite the roughness. He had never been so fierce. Something in her responded wildly.

 

They tore at each other's clothes. The sex was savage, as if neither could get enough of each other. When it was over, they found themselves on the couch; several nearby pieces of furniture were kicked over.

 

He pulled her to him again, kissed her more gently but his eyes were still heated. "I need to tell you something."

 

"What is it?" she asked.

 

"You remember I told you about the night Buffy died and what happened to Glory and to her host Ben?"

 

"Yeah, why?"

 

He stroked her hair back, nuzzled along her hairline, as if memorizing her scent. "That's not exactly how it happened."

 

"How did it happen?"

 

"Buffy would have let him go. Once he healed, Glory would have come back and made Buffy pay. So I made sure that she couldn't. I killed Ben. In cold blood. Nobody else saw. Nobody else knows." He pulled away from her, his expression intent. "I've got his blood on my hands. And not just his. In my past, there were others."

 

She stroked his face, "You didn't mean to. You can't let it eat at you. That's the worst thing."

 

He laughed softly. "It doesn't eat at me, Faith. None of them do. Because I did what was necessary to protect someone I loved." His eyes got very cold.

 

She was suddenly afraid. "I'm not going to hurt Buffy."

 

He was surprised. "I know that. Faith, did you think I meant..."

 

She nodded, her body still tensed. She could have broken away from him easily, but the power of his gaze held her in place.

 

"My love." His voice was tender even as his eyes remained hard. "My dear, dear love."

 

Her breath caught at the words. He'd never said them in quite that way. "But, we're both your loves aren't we? Buffy and I?"

 

He nodded. "You are. Both of you. In very different ways, but I'd do anything to keep you safe. Even from each other. If you tried to hurt her, I'd hunt you down. And if she tries to harm you." His eyes were like ice. "I'll stop her."

 

She felt a thrill at his declaration but couldn't help teasing, "Or die trying."

 

He smiled, the coldness in his eyes melting. "Quite probably the latter."

 

She felt her tension fade as she grinned. "Uh huh." She climbed off the couch, took his hand and led him up the stairs. "It sounded great though."

 

"Yes?"

 

"Oh yeah," she said as she pushed him into bed and followed him under the covers. "Really great." She heard him sigh. "She could be ok, Giles. Maybe Spike's right and it will just take time? I mean, I changed and I was way more screwed up than B is."

 

He pulled her close. "I hope you're right."

 

"Just give it some time. And let her come to you." She settled in next to him. In a shy voice she asked, "Can you say it again, Giles? What you called me before."

 

His arms tightened around her. "My love."

 

"My love," she whispered back, trying it out. She liked the sound of it.

 

-------------------------------

 

Tara lay very still and listened to Willow as she slept. Her lover was exhausted, worn out from too little sleep, too many spells, and the disappointment of the night. After a few more minutes of trying to lure sleep, Tara gave up and slipped out of bed. She went down to the kitchen, started to fix herself some warm milk, then realized the back door was ajar. She reached out with her mind to check the wards. Nothing seemed amiss. She walked quietly to the door and peeked out.

 

Buffy sat on the stairs, head tilted up. "It's beautiful," she said without turning around.

 

Tara walked to the stairs and sat down beside Buffy. She looked up and saw the moon, full and huge directly above them. "Yes, it is."

 

Buffy looked around. "Everything here is so beautiful. Even the ugly things. I never realized that till I was in a place that was featureless."

 

Tara didn't say anything.

 

Buffy turned to her. "Do you like me, Tara?"

 

"What?"

 

"I mean do you really like me?"

 

Tara sensed the slayer didn't want empty assurances that they got along. She considered the question. "I don't know you all that well, Buffy."

 

"So you don't like me?"

 

"I didn't say that. I mean I do like you. But it's just..." she trailed off uncomfortably.

 

"Just what?"

 

"You're kind of hard to know. You seem to keep yourself all closed off."

 

Buffy sighed. "That's what Riley used to say."

 

Tara made a dismissive sound.

 

"What? You didn't like him?" Buffy smiled, the movement easing the tension on her face. "You'd be one of the few."

 

Tara giggled. "I kind of thought he was a big doofus. I mean a nice..."

 

"Doofus?"

 

She shrugged. "Yeah. Plus I think he was freaked by Willow and me."

 

Buffy thought. "He never said anything, which probably means you're right since he seemed to have an opinion about everything else."

 

Tara nodded. "You two made a cute couple but I don't think it was meant to last."

 

Buffy turned to her, asked seriously, "How do you know?"

 

"I get feelings, impressions. I just seem to tune in to romance. Can sense how it's gonna go."

 

"Hmm. So can you sense how it's gonna go with Faith and Giles?"

 

Tara swallowed.

 

Buffy didn't press her. She looked back up at the moon. "Do you like Faith?"

 

"I know her even less than I do you," Tara answered carefully. "But I like how she treats Dawn. And I like the way Mr. Giles smiles when he's around her."

 

"You think she loves him?"

 

"Yes." Tara knew she hadn't picked the answer Buffy wanted. She didn't care.

 

"Hmm."

 

Both girls stared at the moon.

 

Tara whispered, "Did you, um, I mean, is Spike..."

 

Buffy grimaced. "He's fine."

 

"I heard you go down. Were you going to kill him?"

 

Buffy didn't answer.

 

Tara frowned. "What stopped you?"

 

The slayer took a deep breath. "I didn't kill him because that would have been wrong."

 

Tara smiled. "That's something I've always admired about you. That you do the right thing, no matter what."

 

Buffy got up. "I don't feel very admirable."

 

Tara followed her into the house. "Give it some time."

 

"How much?"

 

Tara shrugged. "You were in the portal a long time and it affected you." She ran her hand down Buffy's arm, never actually touching skin. "Your energy is all hot and sort of twisted up. But you'll be ok."

 

"Yeah?"

 

"Oh yeah," she assured her. As Buffy headed upstairs, Tara added silently, "I hope."

 

-------------------------------

 

Dawn woke to brilliant sunshine. She'd been so tired that she had forgotten to draw the curtains. She remembered the events of the night. She checked her leg. The gash was nearly healed. Looking at it, she realized that she had taken on her sister and had won, or at least stopped her. Wow, she thought.

 

She suddenly had a horrible feeling. Spike had been all alone in the basement. She leapt out of bed and ran downstairs. Barreling around the corner to the basement stairs, she nearly collided with Willow.

 

"Dawn? Can you come in to the dining room, there's something we have to talk about."

 

Willow looked so serious, Dawn panicked. "Spike?" she screamed down the stairs.

 

His head popped around the corner from the dining room. "Bloody hell, Dawn, keep it down or the neighbors will call the police."

 

She flung herself at him. "You're ok!"

 

He caught her up with an audible "ummph." "Well, I was," he teased. "Get something to eat and get in here. We all need to talk."

 

She poured cereal quickly into a bowl and splashed some milk over it before hurrying into the other room. Spike was at one end of the table, Buffy at the other. They didn't look at each other but the tension of last night was gone. Dawn wondered what she had missed. She sat down in the closest chair. Willow followed and chose the seat next to her. Tara was already sitting down. She smiled at Dawn.

 

Buffy broke the silence. "I know that life has been really crazy for you since I died, but now that I'm back, things need to get back to normal."

 

"That means no more skipping school," Willow said sternly.

 

Dawn felt resentment grow inside her. Had they all been discussing her while she slept? She looked over at Spike. He gave her a chagrined smile.

 

"I don't skip that much," she protested. "Just when I'm really tired. School's boring anyway."

 

Buffy sighed. "You didn't use to think that. You used to care about your grades."

 

Dawn laughed. "No. You think I used to care. I didn't really exist before last year remember? I never really went to school. I don't really have an academic record. And the real me, the one that does have to attend that hellhole, thinks it's stupid."

 

Tara tried a different approach. "It probably does seem that way. But if you don't go to high school then you can't get into college. And college is really fun, you don't want to miss that. "

 

"If I live that long."

 

"Dawn!" Buffy was getting angry.

 

"Girl's got a point," Spike jumped in. "And it's not like you were student of the year, Buffy. How important is going to school after all?"

 

Willow and Tara looked down, but Buffy laughed. "How important? I'll tell you how important. I met Willow, and Xander there. And even Cordelia. I'd be dead a long time ago if I didn't have friends."

 

Dawn answered back hotly, "Yeah but they know you're the slayer. Mine don't. They think I'm using drugs or something because I never do my homework and I can't tell them things."

 

"Well maybe in time you'll make a friend that you know you can trust with your secret," Tara said gently.

 

"Whatever." Dawn was feeling outnumbered and didn't like it.

 

Willow stroked her hair. "Enough lecturing, huh, Dawnie? But just one more thing. Be sure not to tell anyone at school about Buffy being back. Not till we figure out how we're going to explain that.

 

"Yeah, ok," Dawn studied her sister. "That won't be so hard. Giles will know what to say."

 

Buffy's face tightened.

 

Spike said quickly, "Well, he's not here right, so for now, Pet, just don't say anything."

 

"Or about Amy," Buffy reminded her.

 

Dawn was irritated. She looked around the table. "Why are you all treating me like the baby again? Is it just because Buffy's home?"

 

"Nobody said you were a baby, Dawn," Buffy shot back.

 

"That's the same tone of voice you've always used with me." She looked around the table, saw four pairs of concerned eyes. She stood, angrily kicking her chair back. "Ok, let's all forget that I've been patrolling nightly for months now. Let's just overlook the fact that I'm a slayer because it's so much more fun to treat me like I'm ten."

 

"Dawn," Buffy began.

 

"I really don't want to hear it. And I'm going to be late for school. Wouldn't want that now would we?" She ran upstairs, showered and dressed quickly. Grabbing her book bag and remembering too late that she'd done none of the homework, she hurried down the stairs.

 

Buffy was waiting.

 

"What? Are you going to walk me to school now? Maybe we could hold hands and you could remind me to look both ways before I cross the street?"

 

Their eyes met and held. Buffy looked away first.

 

"Have a good day at school, Dawn."

 

"Can't be any worse than here," she muttered as she stomped out of the house.

 

She was still fuming two blocks later. A familiar voice interrupted her tirade.

 

"Something's got you wicked pissed." Faith fell into step with her.

 

Dawn decided not to go into it. "You're up early."

 

The other slayer shrugged it off.

 

"You never get up this early."

 

"Is it a crime to be worried about you?"

 

Dawn shook her head. "I'm fine."

 

"What about Spike? He still among the undead?"

 

"Yeah, he's ok. But I think something more must have gone on between him and Buffy. They're acting all different now."

 

"What happened?"

 

"I don't know. I fell asleep and didn't wake up until just a while ago. Some slayer, huh?"

 

"You've been through a lot. Don't beat yourself up."

 

Dawn saw that the school was in view. She turned to Faith. "I hate it that you can't just hang around like before."

 

"I know. Me too. But maybe that will change."

 

Dawn made a face. "Why is everything always up to Buffy? Who died and made her queen?"

 

Faith smiled. "I used to wonder that very same thing."

 

Dawn laughed. "I miss you Faith. I love her and I'm glad she's back. But I kinda wish things could go back the way they were."

 

Faith shook her head. "Not gonna happen, kid. Buffy isn't going anywhere. We just have to figure out how to deal with that."

 

"We could always run away and join the circus," Dawn offered.

 

"I think we already did that."

 

They both laughed.

 

"Ok, this is my stop," Dawn pointed at the school building.

 

"Ok."

 

Suddenly unwilling to let the older girl go, Dawn hugged her tightly.

 

"What's that for," Faith asked brusquely.

 

Dawn smiled as she pulled away. "Because I love you. And I don't think I've ever told you that."

 

Faith seemed pleased at the admission even though she didn't say anything for a long moment. "Maybe you should say it to Buffy too."

 

"I did. I mean, I think I did."

 

"Probably should make sure. She might need to hear it." Faith gave her a shy smile. "Because it sounds nice and all."

 

Dawn nodded. "I'll remember."

 

"Ok. Later." Faith turned and started walking but after a few steps she turned around. "I love you too," she said softly. Then she hurried away.

 

Dawn smiled as she went inside to face another school day.

 

-------------------------------

 

Faith had covered several blocks on the way back to Giles apartment before she realized something was following her. She scanned the area, cursing herself for getting careless just because it was daylight. There were plenty of demons that could move about freely in the sun.

 

She listened hard, but there was only silence. She started walking again. Every sense was on alert. She waited for the sound and heard it to her left. She spun, stared hard at the house and trees in front of her. Whatever it was must be hiding around the corner.

 

She pulled out her knife, held it against her leg. "Ok, enough with the hide and seek. Come out where I can see you."

 

Buffy stepped into view.

 

Faith felt her heart skip a beat. She tried to order her features not to react even as she tightened her grip on the knife. "What are you doing, Buffy?"

 

The blonde pursed her lips. "I followed Dawn, then I saw you. So I followed you."

 

Faith felt a shiver. She resolutely told her fear to go away. But it didn't. Because she was afraid of Buffy, even if she would go to her grave denying that fact. Now that she had people she loved that Buffy could take away from her, it only made her more afraid. But she could still be cocky. "Wicked strange behavior, B, but I'm willing to live and let live. So now that you've followed me, howzabout taking it on home where you belong?"

 

Buffy moved closer, studied Faith carefully. "You think I'm going to try to hurt you, don't you?"

 

"Are you?" Faith no longer tried to hide the weapon.

 

Buffy glanced at it. "A knife? Haven't we played out this scenario before?"

 

Faith tried not to think of that night, of Buffy winning, of how many times Buffy had won. "Yeah, but we're not fighting." Calling on every ounce of courage she possessed, Faith put the knife back in its hiding place.

 

She saw Buffy's look of surprise. "We're not?"

 

"We're not."

 

Buffy came closer, stood right in front of her. "Why aren't we fighting, Faith? I don't like you. You don't like me. Sunnydale has never been big enough to hold us both."

 

Faith started to walk.

 

Buffy followed, continuing to talk. "But it's not about us anymore, is it?"

 

"It's about Dawn," Faith agreed.

 

"That's why you're here? Because I don't remember you ever getting up before lunchtime."

 

"Yeah, that's why I'm here. She's hurting, B. I know you can't see it, because you're hurting too. But she's really been kicked around lately. She acts like it's all ok. And at night, and you'll see this when you start patrolling with her, she can slay with the best of them. But deep down she's a frightened girl."

 

"She just told us this morning that she wasn't a baby."

 

Faith rolled her eyes. "Well of course she doesn't want to be treated like a child. She has to do an adult's job. But that doesn't mean she isn't still a kid."

 

Buffy didn't say anything for a while. When she spoke, her voice was very small. "I can still remember what it felt like. Going to bed one night a normal, popular girl. And waking up the next day to find out I was a freak."

 

Faith laughed. "I pretty much went to bed a freak and woke up the same way. But I know what you are saying. The whole destiny thing is pretty friggin' heavy."

 

"Yeah."

 

"We both know it's a death sentence, and death is one thing that Dawn's seen too much of lately."

 

Buffy stopped, touched Faith's arm to bring her to a halt too. "That's why I'm going to say this. I don't like you, Faith. I wish you weren't here."

 

"Not exactly a newsflash, B. And the feeling is mutual."

 

Buffy ignored her. "I don't like you. I may never like you. But Dawn does. You're important to her. And everyone says you've changed."

 

Faith started to say something, but Buffy cut her off. "I hate that you're here. And I really don't like what's going on with you and Giles but that's none of my business. According to Spike, you've spent as much time training Dawn as he has. And done a good job of it too. She obviously looks up to you."

 

"She's my friend," Faith said simply, her eyes meeting Buffy's as she tried to force the other slayer to deal with that.

 

"Your friend then. Whatever. Bottom line is I want my sister to stay alive and as happy as she can be."

 

Faith began to relax.

 

"So as much as I'd like to fight and force you yet again out of my life, I find I have to play nice." Buffy held out her hand to the other slayer. "Truce?"

 

Faith considered for a moment. She knew it could still be a set-up. Tentatively her hand reached out, was gripped in Buffy's. She tensed, but nothing happened. Relief filled her. "Truce," she agreed.

 

Buffy let go, started walking back toward the house. Then she stopped, turned around. Her face was hard. "Truce or no truce, if you hurt Giles, I'll destroy you."

 

Faith straightened. "I'm not going to hurt him."

 

"See that you don't." Buffy turned and walked away fast.

 

Faith watched her go. So this was what an olive branch felt like. She wondered if it was normally used to whip the other person in the face. She sighed. It didn't matter. They needed peace between them. She and Buffy, all of them really. They needed to get on with life again. To learn to fight together. So that when the next evil thing came to town, they'd be ready.

 

But that was later. She preferred to focus on now. And Giles might just be waking up. Their activities the night before had worn him out. She hoped he wasn't still tired. Smiling wickedly, she hurried back to the apartment.

 

FIN

 

Continue on to Part 6 - Truce