DISCLAIMER: The characters are
Joss’, of course.
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Holly has given Joyce some insight into Buffy and Spike’s relationship, while Giles has come face to face with Jenny…
Giles barely noticed when Doyle stepped out of the way from where he’d opened the door. He barely heard the awkward excuse the corporeal ghost muttered before slipping out of the bath and into the bedroom. All he could see was her, and all he could hear was the pounding of his own heart.
He’d never thought he would see her again.
See those dancing eyes.
See that wicked smile.
“If you don’t want to give Paul a free show,” she said with a small smile, “you might want to come inside and shut the door.”
Her words shattered the spell that bound him, and Giles crossed the threshold, nudging the door just enough to close behind him. “They said…” he started, but he didn’t know where to go after that. What could he possibly say to her that wouldn’t leave his heart in ribbons? What could he possibly do that could make this situation any better?
“I’m so sorry it had to be like this,” Jenny said. “I didn’t want you to have to hurt any more by seeing me.”
He frowned. “Didn’t you…wish to see me?” The question was choked from his throat.
“Of course.” She took a step closer, reaching out to touch him before remembering that he wouldn’t be able to feel her anyway. Her hand dropped back to her side. “Now, always, every chance I get, I check in on you. To make sure you’re all right. But this…I know how hard it must be for you.”
Tears stung his eyes, and he wanted to duck his head to hide them but that would mean not seeing her, not having her in front of him, and he couldn’t do that, he just couldn’t. “I’m so sorry,” Giles whispered. “I never meant-.”
The pounding of his heart inside his chest almost drowned out the soft words, and he swallowed as he tried to regain some control. “You look lovely,” he said before he could stop from blurting the words, and then flushed. “Well, that was ridiculous. Of course, you look lovely-.”
“Rupert. Stop.” Jenny shook her head as he fell silent. “I’m going to say this now, and I’m only going to say this once. What happened to me…was not your fault. I know what you tried to do, and I know it wasn’t…easy, finding me like you did, but it was all Angelus. If I’d been honest with all of you from the start, maybe things would’ve been different, but that’s not what happened. And I’m perfectly all right with that. I just wish you still didn’t hurt so much about all of it.”
“No, you couldn’t.”
“No, you shouldn’t.” She sighed. “Are we going to go through all the could’ve’s, should’ve’s, would’ve’s?” Jenny asked. The corner of her mouth lifted. “Because it’s not really the point, now, is it? Shouldn’t we be concentrating on making sure that Buffy succeeds in saving Holly from Maria’s plans?”
He started to speak, and then stopped, the sudden dawning of what she was doing staying his argument. “You’re attempting to distract me,” Giles said, incredulous. At least some of his initial ache at seeing her was abating. “You’re changing the subject, just like-.”
But he couldn’t finish that thought, because that thought carried with it the pain of blame and memories that he’d thought he’d already dealt with.
“Is it working?” She wore a full smile now, and her eyes were bright with amusement.
“It never did. You were always too stubborn, Rupert. I’m glad to see that hasn’t changed.”
His breath was too much for his lungs, and he exhaled loudly, leaning against the sink and rubbing at his eyes. “I’ve missed you,” Giles murmured. For some reason, it was easier to say out loud when he wasn’t looking at her. It was almost as if he was back in his bed and saying it into the darkness, like he had so many nights after she’d been killed.
“I’ve missed you, too,” she replied. She must’ve stepped closer because, without lifting his head, he could see the swish of her skirt appear in his circle of vision. “I’ve worried about you. I hate seeing you unhappy.”
Looking up, he saw that her smile had vanished. “I’ve managed. Buffy and I have been…busy.”
“Is that your reason for not calling Olivia since she returned to England?” At his obvious shock that she knew such a detail, Jenny shook her head. “I told you I was watching.”
“Spying, more likely.”
“Probably. But if I hadn’t been, I wouldn’t have found out about Maria’s plan for you, and then we wouldn’t have been able to do anything about getting Buffy and Spike to watch over Holly.”
“I’m surprised you didn’t figure it out already. You didn’t think it was strange that everyone was suddenly unavailable to watch Spike? It took some finagling to convince Mrs. Rosenberg to go to Wisconsin, but it’s looking like it was well worth it in the end.”
“Are you saying all of this was orchestrated?” His pain was dissipating in light of the truth coming out, and he straightened as he addressed her. “You’re the reason Buffy’s been trapped with Spike for the past two weeks?”
“Well, no, that was more Tara’s doing. I didn’t think Spike was the best choice for this assignment.”
“Tara? Who is Tara?”
“Sit down, Rupert. If you promise not to interrupt, I’ll tell you everything.”
Somehow, he managed to forget halfway through her story that it was Jenny telling the tale-well, not forget, per se, but distracted enough by the newfound information not to dwell on his own feelings.
“She’s…three?” he asked, for the third time since Jenny had finished.
“At least, for the next forty-eight or so hours she is.”
“But…Maria told us she was her daughter. That would be quite impossible-.”
“Maria manipulated your emotions to get you to help her,” Jenny said. “That’s what she does. She took three Watchers who felt they’d failed their Slayers, and used their guilt to try and serve her own interests.” She smiled. “I should’ve known you’d be too smart for her.”
“I wasn’t. It was all Joyce. Until she arrived, I was quite content to continue our search.” Giles paused, frowning. “Well, perhaps not quite content. But I would likely have continued if Joyce hadn’t intervened.”
“Actually, I heard she fell through Paul’s window.”
He glanced up and caught Jenny’s amused smile. Oh, how he had missed her wry observations. It just felt so right having this conversation with her, as if the last two years without her hadn’t happened. It must have shown in his face, though, because her smile slowly faded.
“You know what I wish?” she asked. Her tone was contemplative. “I wish that you could walk away from this and move on. Let go of the past. It’s holding you back, Rupert, and you don’t really want that. I don’t want that.”
“I can’t,” he admitted. “If I let it go, I run the risk of having someone else get hurt in the same way you were. I won’t let that happen.”
“You’re cheating yourself.”
“And I’m saving lives in the process. I consider that a fair trade, don’t you?”
She folded her arms across her chest. “Actually, I don’t. People die, Rupert. You can’t change that. And if someone is already running that risk every other day of their life, what does it matter if you keep them at arms’ length or not? You’re not really interested in keeping other people safe. You’re interested in not getting hurt again.”
Rising to his feet, Giles felt a surge of anger at her words. “And how exactly would you know that?” he demanded. “In case you haven’t noticed, Jenny, you haven’t been around for the past two years. What I’ve done, I’ve done for all the right reasons. You, of all people, should understand that.”
“Now there’s the Rupert I remember. All self-righteous bluster even when he knows he’s wrong.”
It was said with affection, her eyes dancing, and it completely deflated the burn that had been mounting within his chest. “I don’t bluster,” he argued, though they both recognized the ineffectiveness of his statement and smiled almost at exactly the same time. “And you are still one of the most infuriating women I have ever known.”
“I guess they’re your kink, then, huh? It certainly explains Joyce.” Jenny laughed at the confusion he couldn’t hide. “It’s all right to be attracted to her, you know.”
“I’ve got just two words for you. Band candy.”
Giles blushed. “You…know about that?”
“Know about it? Whose idea do you think it was? And it was working out great until you two decided to go all shy afterwards. What was that all about anyway?”
“It wouldn’t have been…appropriate.”
“That’s ridiculous. Give me one good reason why Joyce is such a bad thing for you.”
He looked her in the eyes then. “Because she’s not you.”
His words were not what she expected, and she visibly sagged beneath the weight of them. “Talk about placing a burden of guilt on a girl,” Jenny said softly. “Do you know how hard it is to tote such a load when your shoulders aren’t even solid?”
The joke fell flat. “I’m not interested in relationships right now,” Giles said. “I thought…with Olivia…but the incident with the Gentlemen was too much for her. I’m not sure why I expected otherwise.”
“It would be too much for a lot of people. Maybe not for Joyce, considering how things have turned out so far with Holly.”
“I’m dropping it, I promise. If you promise me that you’re going to start taking care of yourself better. Even Buffy’s grabbing happiness while she can, so if the busy Slayer can do it, I certainly think her Watcher can.”
He only nodded. He didn’t know what else to say to her. All his words were exhausted, and his heart was leaden with the knowledge that he would likely never get the chance to see her again. Perhaps this had been a bad idea, after all. Perhaps Joyce had been right in keeping him in the dark.
“You should rest,” Jenny said, breaking the silence that had fallen between them. “I’ve…asked for a little something to help you heal more quickly. I’m sorry you ended up on the wrong end of Maria’s interrogation.” When Giles didn’t move right away, she closed the gap between them and waited until he met her eyes again.
“I know what you want,” she said. “I know you want me to say that I forgive you. But I can’t. There’s nothing to forgive, Rupert. You. Did nothing. Wrong. I know you don’t believe me, but maybe you will someday. I just hope it’s sooner rather than later.”
Clearing his throat to avoid the tears that threatened to spill, Giles reached for the door knob. “Just tell me one thing,” he said, his back to her, his hand almost trembling. “Are you happy?”
“Yes.” No hesitation. She didn’t even have to think about it, he realized. “What I do now…it’s important. It matters. It makes up for not…for all the other.”
It was all he wanted to hear. “Thank you,” Giles murmured, and stepped back into the murk of the hotel room. Paul still slept, and in the chair by the window, Doyle was flipping through an old TV Guide, reading it by the moonlight that came in through the open curtains. He glanced up when Giles emerged, but his face was in shadows, the light from behind shielding him from inspection.
“You should rest, man,” Doyle said. The echo of Jenny’s words made Giles sag in exhaustion. “Tomorrow’s going to be a busy day.”
“Oh?” he asked, climbing carefully back into his bed. “And why’s that?”
“You’ll see.” Doyle’s veiled statement echoed inside Giles’ head as sleep overcame him again. “You’ll see…”
He only agreed to go back to the cabin so quickly because Buffy pulled out her secret weapon.
“It’s only been a couple hours,” Spike complained as she began pulling him in the direction of the house again. He tugged just enough to pull her against him, her bottom nestling firmly against his erection, his arm snaking around her waist. “Can think of a whole bunch of ways we can spend the rest of the night,” he said as he buried his face in her hair. “And not one of ‘em involves bein’ inside.”
“Mom’s going to start worrying,” Buffy said. “She’s having a hard enough time dealing with the idea of you and me as it is. Do you really want to make it any harder?”
Spike ground his cock into her bottom. “Not sure that’s possible, luv.”
With a sigh, she twisted in his arms, lifting her face to look at him.
And there it came.
That bloody lower lip.
All petulant, and demanding, and begging him to pay attention to it.
“Please?” Buffy asked. “Do it for me?”
Doomed. That’s what he was. A sucker for a lower lip and a little scrap of solicitude.
Rolling his eyes, Spike sighed, the sound loud and drawn out in the crisp night air. “Just remember you’ll owe me one,” he said. He shook his head when she began pulling him along, their fingers entwined. At least he’d got a few good hours before returning to the lion’s den.
Or rather, mama lion’s den.
When they opened the door, both Buffy and Spike were surprised by the sight of Joyce sitting on the couch, still awake. A book was open in her lap, and Holly was curled into her side, fast asleep, her index finger stuck fast in her mouth.
“You’re still up,” Buffy said.
“Sshhh,” Joyce warned. “She finally went back to sleep.”
“Pidge wasn’t sleepwalkin’ again, was she?”
“No, just a little unsettled. We had a lovely visit while we waited for you two, though.” She held her hand up to stop him when Spike moved to pick Holly up. “I have an idea,” Joyce said. “Why doesn’t Buffy put her to bed, and then spend the night in there? I’d like to have a few words with you, Spike.”
“Mom, you don’t-.”
“It’s OK, pet.” His eyes never left the elder Summers woman. “You’d best get some rest. Me and your mum have some stuff to talk over anyway.”
“You mean, you want to talk about me.”
“And they say Slayers are only good with their fists,” he teased.
Buffy gave in gracefully, scooping Holly up in her arms after giving her mother a kiss on the cheek. She stopped in front of Spike before going into the bedroom. “Play nice,” she warned, and shot a look over her shoulder at her mom. “Both of you.”
Joyce stayed silent until the door was firmly closed behind Buffy, and then rose from her seat. “Hungry?” she asked, stepping to the kitchen. “I would imagine you must’ve worked up quite an appetite.”
Tilting his head as he regarded her, Spike slipped his coat off his shoulders and dropped it to a chair near the door. If he didn’t know better, he would’ve thought Joyce was deliberately baiting him-. Hell, he did know better, and yeah, she sure as hell was. He smiled. He knew he’d always liked Joyce for a reason.
“I’ll take care of it,” he said, sauntering to join her. “Something tells me you’ve not had much practice warming up blood.”
“You’ve got me there.” She handed over the packet she’d removed from the fridge, and watched as he set to heating it. Her gaze was contemplative, and much of the disapproval from earlier seemed to be missing. “Holly really adores you, you know.”
Spike stirred the viscous liquid. “Should see Buffy with her,” he said. “It was a little rough at first, but they’ve come a long way.”
“So have you, it looks like.”
“Is this the part where you tell me to get the hell away from your daughter?” He teased her with her own words, but when he cast a glance at her through his eyelashes, he couldn’t help but see the serious set of her mouth.
“No,” Joyce said. “This is the part where I ask if this is just a way for you to get back at Buffy, once and for all.”
All pretense at trying to remain nonchalant about the matter vanished. “What are you talkin’ about?”
“Don’t play games with me, Spike. I know how much trouble you’ve been for Buffy, and I know how very much not thrilled you are about your current situation. Convince me that this isn’t some elaborate scheme of yours to hurt Buffy the only way you can now. She cares about you, and you of all people should know that the only way to get to Buffy is through her heart.”
“Never even considered that,” Spike said in all honesty. “Not a bad plan, considering. Too bad I didn’t think of it before fallin’ for her for real. I know you don’t want to hear it, Joyce, but I love Buffy.”
“Last I heard, you loved Drusilla.”
“Yeah, well, Dru left, now didn’t she?”
“So, Buffy is just her stand-in? Is that what you’re telling me?”
“No, that’s not what I said.”
“That’s what it sounded like.”
“Looks like I figured out where Buffy gets her selective hearing from.” He regretted the words as soon as they came out of his mouth, but Spike’s rising irritation at being misunderstood was getting the better of him.
“Look,” he said, and pulled the pan off the burner so that he could devote all his attention to Joyce, “I’m not goin’ to lie and say I was over the moon when Buffy and I found out we were stuck here, with only the other for company. But a lot’s changed since then. We had to wipe the slate clean, if you know what I mean, or there was no way we would’ve lasted a single day without tearing each other’s throat out. Was the best thing that’s happened to me in a long time, ‘cause I finally got the chance to really see her. I don’t have to tell you she’s an amazing young woman.”
Joyce’s eyes narrowed. “But she’s still the Slayer,” she said. “And you’re still a vampire. Angel-.”
“-is a wanker for givin’ up so easily. ‘Course, that worked out better for me.”
“Because it makes Buffy vulnerable?”
“I was goin’ to say available, actually.”
Pressing her lips together, Joyce just stared at him for a long minute, every second adding to Spike’s discomfort. Finally, she said, “Holly told me about Buffy almost dying.”
He stilled. “Oh?” Memories of how the little one had walked in on him crying burned, and he turned to pull a mug out of the cupboard before his feelings about how close he’d come to losing Buffy were written across his face.
“I want you to know…I’m thankful that you were here to look after my little girl. I can’t stand the thought that I might lose her again.”
“And you won’t, if I have anything to say about the matter,” he replied, his voice husky.
“For some reason, I think I want to believe you.”
“No, I think you’re more inclined to be believing a certain little moptop who doesn’t know how to keep her mouth shut. Believing me is just an unfortunate side effect.”
“Maybe not so unfortunate,” Joyce said quietly.
Risking another glance, Spike saw her wiping wearily at her eyes. “Been a long day for you, hasn’t it?” he asked.
“You have no idea.”
He kept his gaze averted, pouring out his blood as he spoke. “Since Buffy’s in with the little one, you might as well take the bed upstairs. I’ll just camp out on the couch. Be better for keeping an eye out in case Pidge decides to do another walkabout.”
“Thank you,” Joyce said. “I’d appreciate that.”
Listening to her climb the ladder, Spike waited until he heard the squeak of the bed before glancing around at the now empty room. He wasn’t entirely sure what had just happened there, but he had a sneaking suspicion he’d managed to come out ahead in this first round of wrangling with Buffy’s everyday life.
And he was even more convinced that the reason he’d done so well was all due to Holly. He was going to have to pay her back for it in the morning.
To be continued in Chapter 50: Paint Red Rattles on Old Rollie…